What do you think of when you think of gestational diabetes? The horror stories of the vile orange drink test? Overweight newborns? Pregnant mums on strict diets? While these might be correct in some cases of gestational diabetes, there is more to this phenomenon than you might think.
Pam Durant is the founder and managing director of Diapointe ME and a wellness and lifestyle coach. As the mother of a diabetic son, Pam took it upon herself to learn as much as she could about diabetes – in all its forms.
She says, "Gestational Diabetes refers to the type of diabetes that occurs in women who did not have diabetes before pregnancy but develop an insulin resistance during pregnancy. This causes them to have high blood sugar. Insulin is the hormone in our bodies that controls our blood sugars. If we are resistant to insulin, or cannot produce enough of it, our blood sugars will run high."
High amounts of sugar (in the form of glucose) in the mum’s blood stream while pregnant can be bad for the baby in many ways. Firstly, it can necessitate the need for an induced labour or a Caesarean section birth. Another impact could be having a larger baby and a more painful, complicated and dangerous birth. Additionally, the baby could be born with low blood glucose levels, with a higher risk of being overweight or obese in the future, as well as higher chance of developing Type 2 diabetes later in life. Treatment of this condition ranges from healthy eating and exercise to finger-pricking to check your blood sugar levels and taking regular medication throughout the pregnancy.
What to do if you have gestational diabetes
Pam says, "A gestational diabetes diagnosis may be frightening and feel isolating. But it is a condition that can be managed. Most women who manage their condition deliver healthy babies. At the same time, please do not ignore gestational diabetes. It should be taken seriously as unmanaged diabetes during pregnancy can result in complications for both mother and baby."
Most importantly, make sure your doctor gives you all the adequate information needed to manage your blood sugars well throughout your pregnancy. You may be prescribed medication, or a food and exercise regime, or both. Whatever your case may be, be kind on yourself and remind yourself that our bodies need a little extra help sometimes.
The science part
So why does this happen when a mother has no history of diabetes? Pam says, "Other hormones in the body block the mother’s insulin when pregnant, which creates an insulin resistance. What exactly triggers this is not clear. Recent statistics from the International Diabetes Federation suggest that approximately one in seven pregnant women are affected by it.
"There is no way to predict exactly whether a pregnant woman will develop gestational diabetes. However, there are some factors that contribute to the risk of getting it, like high blood pressure, being overweight, age, or having a family history of gestational diabetes.
"However, gestational diabetes does not always show symptoms. Therefore, all pregnant women need to get tested to confirm if they have it. This is typically done in the second trimester of pregnancy."
Long term impact
While a gestational diabetes diagnosis thankfully does not mean that your baby will develop Type 1 diabetes, there have been proven links between the pregnancy condition and Type 2 diabetes. Pam explains. "A child born from a mum that has gestational diabetes is more likely to develop Type 2 Diabetes later in life. The same is true for the mum. There is also a higher chance of having it with future pregnancies after having it with one pregnancy."
Some pregnant mums are told they have borderline gestational diabetes. This means that you are very close to the threshold of blood glucose levels that would qualify as gestational diabetes. If you receive this as a diagnosis, it is important to follow your doctor’s orders. They may prescribe medication and healthy choices because often a mum with a borderline diagnosis experiences increased insulin resistance later in her pregnancy.