Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that some women develop when they are pregnant. If you have gestational diabetes, your blood sugar (glucose) levels are higher than normal. It can lead to problems for you and your baby if the diabetes is uncontrolled. However, there are many treatment options that can help control the condition during your pregnancy and reduce the risks to you and your baby
Gestational diabetes means you have a high blood sugar level that develops during pregnancy. The condition usually resolves after the birth of your baby. Around twenty two in 100 pregnancies are affected by gestational diabetes.
Normally, your body produces a hormone (a chemical messenger carried in your blood) called insulin to control the sugar level in your blood. Insulin causes the sugar in your blood to be taken up by your cells and stored to be later turned into energy.
During pregnancy, your hormones, such as oestrogen and progesterone, cause your cells to become less sensitive to insulin. This means your body needs to produce more insulin than normal to control your blood sugar. If you develop diabetes in pregnancy, it means that either your body isn’t releasing enough insulin, or your cells aren’t responding to it. The result is that your blood sugar level remains high. This can have a number of effects on you and your growing baby.
Gestational diabetes usually begins in the second trimester (after 13 weeks) of pregnancy. The condition often resolves after the birth of your baby. If you still have diabetes after your baby is born, it’s likely that you already had diabetes before you became pregnant. In this situation, you will need to have treatment for the condition.
Symptoms of gestational diabetes are uncommon. This is because the condition is usually diagnosed from screening tests before symptoms develop. However, if diabetes isn’t detected and or treated, you may develop symptoms such as:
These symptoms aren’t always caused by gestational diabetes. If you notice any of these symptoms, see your doctor.
Gestational diabetes can lead to a number of complications for you or your baby if it isn’t controlled. However, you can reduce your risk of many of these by carefully controlling your blood sugar level.
Complications affecting you
Complications that can affect you include the following.
You're also more likely to develop gestational diabetes in future pregnancies and have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. After you’ve had your baby, you should be checked for type 2 diabetes regularly so that treatment can be started if you need it.
Complications affecting your baby
Complications that may affect your baby include the following. Remember that your midwives and doctor will monitor you throughout your pregnancy and birth to reduce any risks to you and your baby.
There are a number of factors that can increase your risk of developing gestational diabetes. You’re more at risk if you:
Your ethnic group may also increase your risk of getting gestational diabetes. The condition is more common in people with a South Asian (particularly India, Pakistan or Bangladesh), black Caribbean or Middle Eastern background.
At your first antenatal appointment, your midwife will ask you a number of questions to assess your risk of gestational diabetes. Based on this, you may be offered a test later in your pregnancy to find out whether you have diabetes.
The test for gestational diabetes involves drinking a sugary drink and then having blood samples taken. This will measure how well your body processes sugar. You will usually be offered the test if you are thought to be at risk between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy. It may be offered to you earlier if you have previously had gestational diabetes.
If you’re diagnosed with diabetes, you should be offered an appointment with a joint diabetes and antenatal clinic. The doctors and nurses here will be experienced in looking after pregnant women with diabetes. You will have more frequent antenatal appointments than women who don't have gestational diabetes.
Your treatment will be aimed at keeping your blood sugar lowered enough to help prevent complications. You will need to regularly test your blood sugar level. You will be given advice on how to test it, how often, and the level that you're aiming for.
Your doctor or dietitian will advise you on ways to manage your gestational diabetes with diet and exercise changes. This may be all you need to do to keep your blood sugar level low enough to help prevent complications.
The following healthy eating ideas could help to keep your blood sugar level stable and within the ideal range.
Keeping active during pregnancy can reduce your risk of developing gestational diabetes. Speak to your doctor or midwife if you have any concerns about exercising during pregnancy, or if you haven’t previously been doing any.
Between one and two in 10 women won't be able to control their diabetes with lifestyle changes and will need medication. Your doctor will discuss different treatment options with you if you’re unable to control your diabetes after one to two weeks of diet and exercise changes.
You may be prescribed insulin, which you will need to take as an injection. You will be shown how to inject yourself and get advice on when to do this. Many tablet treatments for diabetes aren’t recommended during pregnancy. However, you may be prescribed metformin or glibenclamide which work in different ways to reduce the level of sugar in your blood.
You and your baby will have your blood sugar levels tested shortly after delivery, to make sure these are back to normal.
Doctors recommend that it's best to breastfeed your baby soon after birth to keep your baby's blood sugar at a safe level.
You can usually stop taking medication for the condition immediately after birth. You will need to have a blood sugar test at your six-week check-up to ensure that your blood sugar has returned to the expected level. It’s important to keep your blood sugar level under control. Make sure that you make an appointment to get it checked once a year.
There is a chance that your blood sugar levels could remain high after the birth of your baby. This means that you could develop diabetes, even though you’re no longer pregnant. If you have high blood sugar after childbirth, your doctor will talk to you about some options to manage the condition.
Reviewed by Hemali Parekh, Bupa Health Information Team, December 2013.
This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended only for general information and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the about our health information page.
This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended only for general information and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the About our Health Information page.
Publication date: December 2011
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