So, what is diabates? and what is gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes affects how your cells use sugar (glucose), causing high blood sugar, which can affect your pregnancy and baby. Once you deliver your baby, your blood sugar levels will likely return to normal.
If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes during pregnancy, there are many things you can do to control the condition; eating a healthy diet and regular exercise (within your limitations) are a great place to start and can help prevent further complications.
But what signs should we be looking out for when it comes to gestational diabetes? And how can we manage the condition?
Keep reading to find out what you should look out for when it comes to gestational diabetes.
The symptoms of gestational diabetes are difficult to spot and can be very subtle. Some early warning signs might be increased thirst and frequent urination.
Because these signs are so subtle, it’s important to speak to your doctor early if you are pregnant and suspect that you’re experiencing them. If your doctor diagnoses you with gestational diabetes, it will mean regular check-ups so your doctor can monitor your blood sugar levels, as well as the health of your baby.
Diabetes Australia recommends all pregnant women should be tested for gestational diabetes at 24-28 weeks of pregnancy (except those women who already have diabetes) and those with high-risk factors should be tested earlier in their pregnancy.
Our blood sugar levels are regulated by our hormones, but because pregnancy affects hormone levels, it can make it harder for the body to process blood sugar efficiently.
When a woman is pregnant, the placenta produces hormones to help the baby grow. These hormones block a woman’s insulin, causing insulin resistance. Because of this resistance, the need for insulin is 2-3 times higher than normal; this is a problem if you already have insulin resistance, because your body can’t cope with the extra demand for insulin production, resulting in higher blood glucose levels.
Researchers are still unsure what exactly causes gestational diabetes, but one theory suggests that as the placenta grows, more hormones are produced, making the risk of insulin resistance greater as the production of excess insulin by the pancreas is not enough to overcome these placental hormones.
Risk factors and complications
There are several risk factors involved with gestational diabetes, and if not managed correctly, they can lead to several complications for both you and your baby.
Risk factors include:
- Age: Your risk of developing gestational diabetes dramatically increases from age 40.
- Family history: Having a mother or sister who had gestational diabetes.
- Weight: Excess weight or obesity increases your risk.
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
- Past pregnancies: If you’ve previously given birth to a large baby (more than 4.5kg)
- Medications: Steroid medications can increase your risk.
- History of high blood glucose levels
- Ethnicity: Aboriginal, Melanesian, Chinese, South-east Asian, Middle Eastern and Indian women are at greater risk.
Complications for you include:
- High blood pressure: This can also increase your risk of pre-eclampsia, which can cause a serious threat to the life of your unborn child.
- Surgical delivery (C-section)
- Future diabetes: You’re more likely to get gestational diabetes in a future pregnancy, as well as being at risk of type 2 diabetes in the future.
Complications for your baby include:
- High birth weight: Babies weighing nine pounds or more are more likely to get wedged in the birth canal, have birth injuries or need a C-section.
- Premature birth: High blood pressure can increase the risk of early labour.
- Birth difficulties: Babies born early may experience respiratory distress syndrome, making breathing difficult.
- Low blood sugar: Babies born with low blood sugar can experience hypoglycaemia, and in severe cases, seizure.
- Obesity and type 2 diabetes later in life
Gestational diabetes is diagnosed by an oral glucose tolerance test known as OGTT.
In this test, your blood will be taken to measure your fasting blood glucose level. When this is done, you’ll be given a sugary drink, and have your blood taken 1-2 hours later.
If your blood glucose level is above the normal range when you’re in a fasted state (so, no food since the night before), as well as 1-2 hours later, it means you have gestational diabetes.
Treatment and medications
If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, the important thing is not to panic. Many women go on to have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.
Treatment of gestational diabetes will involve monitoring your blood glucose levels quite closely, as well as following an eating plan such as Defeat Diabetes. Gentle exercise and maintaining a healthy weight can also help get your gestational diabetes under control.
Along with these treatment methods, your emotional health also plays a huge part in your overall wellbeing and helps reduce your stress.
Some of these factors are:
- A support system: Whether it’s your family, your friends or other Defeat Diabetes community members, having people you can talk to about your journey can help keep you on track.
- Being kind to yourself: We’re all human, and we all have to learn. Managing your gestational diabetes means recognising that small setbacks aren’t the end of the world, and you can keep trying.
Management of gestational diabetes
Gestational diabetes can quite often be managed with a healthy diet and regular exercise, but there are other things you can do to minimise your risk of developing gestational diabetes now and in future pregnancies.
- Eat healthy foods: Eat a healthy fat, low carbohydrate diet that includes nuts and seeds, avocado, oily fish, full-fat dairy and non-starchy vegetables. Steer clear of high sugar fruits and drinks, pasta, bread and rice, as well as processed foods.
- Reduce stress: Stress is often inescapable, but how you deal with it can have a huge impact on the health of your unborn baby. When you’re stressed, parts of the immune system are temporarily suppressed; so constant states of stress can elevate your gestational diabetes and cause stress to your baby. Try taking time out for yourself, whether that’s listening to music, going for a walk, socialising with a friend or finding a new hobby.
- Keep active: Exercising before and during pregnancy can help protect you from developing gestational diabetes. Aim for 30 minutes of gentle activity on most days of the week.
- Don’t gain more weight than recommended: Gaining some weight during pregnancy is normal and healthy. But gaining too much weight too quickly can increase your risk of gestational diabetes.
- Get better quality sleep: Deep sleep helps our hormones remain balanced, which is essential for maintaining sound blood glucose levels. Aim for eight hours a night where possible.
The team at Defeat Diabetes, supported by the latest evidence and a medical advisory panel of dietitians and doctors, believe diet is the single most important element in managing gestational diabetes.
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