If your blood sugar level first becomes too high when you are pregnant, you have gestational diabetes. It usually goes back to normal after the baby is born.It can occur at any stage of pregnancy, but is more common in the second half.
Gestational diabetes can cause problems for you and your baby during and after birth. But the risk of these problems happening can be reduced if it’s detected and well managed.
Women who have had gestational diabetes are more likely than other women to develop type 2 diabetes later on. You may be able to prevent or reduce the severity of type 2 diabetes by staying at a healthy weight, eating healthy foods, and increasing your physical activity.
What causes gestational diabetes?
The pancreas makes a hormone called insulin. Insulin helps your body properly use and store the sugar from the food you eat. This keeps your blood sugar level in a target range. When you are pregnant, the placenta makes hormones that can make it harder for insulin to work. This is called insulin resistance.
A pregnant woman can get diabetes when her pancreas cannot make enough insulin to keep her blood sugar levels within a target range.
Who’s at risk of gestational diabetes
Any woman can develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy, but you’re at an increased risk if:
- your body mass index (BMI) is above 30
- you previously had a baby who weighed 4.5kg (10lbs) or more at birth
- you had gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy
- one of your parents or siblings has diabetes
- your family origins are south Asian, Chinese, African-Caribbean or Middle Eastern
If any of these apply to you, you should be offered screening for gestational diabetes during your pregnancy.
What are the symptoms?
Gestational diabetes doesn’t usually cause any symptoms. Most cases are only picked up when your blood sugar level is tested during screening for gestational diabetes.
Sometimes a pregnant woman may develop some symptoms if her sugar level is too high such as:
- Increased thirst.
- needing to pee more often than usual.
- Increased hunger.
- Blurred vision.
Pregnancy causes most women to urinate more often and to feel more hungry. So having these symptoms doesn’t always mean that a woman has diabetes.
How is gestational diabetes diagnosed?
The screening test used is called an oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT), which takes about two hours.
It involves having a blood test taken in the morning when you’ve had nothing to eat or drink overnight (you can usually drink water, but check with the hospital if you’re unsure). You’re then given a glucose drink.
After resting for two hours, another blood sample is taken to see how your body is dealing with the glucose.
The OGTT is done when you’re between 24 and 28 weeks pregnant. If you’ve had gestational diabetes before, you’ll be offered an OGTT earlier in pregnancy soon after your booking visit, and another OGTT at 24 to 28 weeks if the first test is normal.
How gestational diabetes can affect your pregnancy
Most women with gestational diabetes have otherwise normal pregnancies with healthy babies.
However, gestational diabetes can cause problems such as:
- Your baby growing larger than usual – this may lead to difficulties during the delivery and increases the likelihood of a caesarean section
- Polyhydramnios – too much amniotic fluid (the fluid that surrounds the baby) in the womb, which can cause premature labour or problems at delivery
- Premature birth – giving birth before the 37th week of pregnancy
- Pre-eclampsia – a condition that causes high blood pressure during pregnancy and can lead to pregnancy complications if not treated
- Jaundice at birth-your baby developing low blood sugar or yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice) after he or she is born, which may require treatment in hospital
- stillbirth- the loss of your baby though this is rare
Having gestational diabetes also means you’re at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future.
Some women with gestational diabetes can control their blood sugar level by changing the way they eat and by exercising regularly. These healthy choices can also help prevent gestational diabetes in future pregnancies and type 2 diabetes later in life.
Treatment for gestational diabetes also includes checking your blood sugar level at home and seeing your doctor regularly.
You may need to give yourself insulin shots to help control your blood sugar. This insulin adds to the insulin that your body makes. Diabetes medicines may be used to control gestational diabetes in some women.