Gestational diabetes is a condition experienced by pregnant women who develop high blood sugar, or glucose, levels. It is usually diagnosed by the 28th week. Nearly four percent of pregnant women are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, which equals approximately 135,000 women in the United States annually.
Gestational diabetes occurs when a woman’s pregnant body cannot produce and utilize the insulin it needs for pregnancy correctly. As a result, the unused glucose increases and compounds in the blood and results in hyperglycemia. Although the exact cause of gestational diabetes is not known, it may have something to do with the fact that normal pregnancy hormones from the placenta block the process insulin goes through in the mother, resulting in insulin resistance. Because gestational diabetes develops later in a pregnancy, it usually does not affect the baby in terms of birth defects.
If the condition is treated incorrectly, the baby can end up with high levels of glucose in his or her blood. The baby, in turn, churns out extra insulin from the pancreas to counteract the high glucose. The extra energy the baby gets as a result of the overproduction of insulin results in stored fat. As a result, babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes tend to have higher birth weights. Gestational diabetes can lead to an elevated risk of injury to the baby during delivery, breathing problems, obesity and development of type 2 diabetes later in life.
Treatment of gestational diabetes includes lowering blood glucose levels through strict diet and exercise. Constant glucose monitoring, and possibly injections of insulin, may also be prescribed. Fortunately, gestational diabetes usually resolves itself with delivery. However, chances are that two in three women with gestational diabetes will develop the condition with subsequent pregnancies.
Risk factors for developing gestational diabetes include obesity, previous history of diabetes, family history of diabetes, age over 30, high blood pressure and frequent urinary tract infections. Women who have had large babies, stillbirths, miscarriages or birth defects in previous pregnancies are also at a higher risk for developing the condition.
With any type of diabetes, prevention is key. A woman hoping to get pregnant should be within 20% of her ideal body weight, eat a healthy diet and exercise on a regular basis. A healthy lifestyle increases a woman's chances of enjoying a healthy, complication free pregnancy.