For an expectant mother, terms like gestational diabetes, hyperglycemia, insulin resistance, and macrosomia can be just as frightening as they are confusing. But those terms don’t have to raise the alarm if you understand their meaning and know how your body is affected by gestational diabetes. This guide will help you understand.
WHAT IS GESTATIONAL DIABETES?
Glucose and insulin work hand in hand to regulate the sugar levels in the blood stream. An imbalance either way can lead to challenges.
When you are pregnant, and your body fails to produce enough insulin, or if the insulin isn’t working as it should, to transition glucose out of the blood stream allowing it to be converted to energy, it builds up in the blood stream causing a condition called gestational diabetes. Elevated levels of blood sugar are called hyperglycemia.
Insulin resistance is when the body makes insulin, but it isn’t working as it should. In pregnancy, hormones from the placenta can make it more difficult for the mother’s insulin to work properly.
HOW COMMON IS IT?
Though the root causes are still unclear, gestational diabetes affects as many as 18% of all pregnancies.
WHAT ARE THE RISKS TO ME AND MY UNBORN CHILD?
In pregnancy, it is important to have controlled blood sugars. If blood sugars remain too high over a long period of time, it can cause the baby to get too big. This condition is called macrosomia.
Macrosomia increases the risk of complications at delivery. One of these complications is called shoulder dystocia. Shoulder dystocia is an obstetric emergency that occurs when the baby’s shoulder gets “stuck” during delivery.
Macrosomia also has shown to increase the risk of the baby developing childhood obesity.
HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE GESTATIONAL DIABETES?
Your doctor will have you complete an Oral Glucose Tolerance test (OGTT) at 24-28 weeks of your pregnancy. This test challenges your body’s ability to manage a controlled amount of glucose. You will need to drink the glucose beverage within 5 minutes. You will not be able to eat or drink anything or leave the lab during the testing period.
There are a few different OGTT tests used by physicians:
Many women who develop gestational diabetes will have no known risk factors. For others, some risk factors have been shown to correlate with gestational diabetes. These include:
HOW IS GESTATIONAL DIABETES TREATED DURING PREGNANCY?
When you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, you will usually be referred to a Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE). You will work closely with the CDE throughout the pregnancy. The CDE works collectively with your physicians to create a plan that is individualized for your needs.
The CDE will teach you how and when to monitor your blood sugar using a glucometer. You will also be taught diet strategies that will help promote optimal glucose control. This usually includes being given a meal plan that is specialized for pregnancy.
As directed by your physician, light exercise, such as walking, after meals is often recommended to promote glucose control.
Sometimes, exercise and a gestational diabetes diet are not enough to control the blood sugars in pregnancy. Your physician will determine if medication will be required. Be sure to take all medications as prescribed.
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