As a woman who has experienced five pregnancies, I vividly recall the days of sitting in the obstetrician’s office after drinking a nasty, flat, syrupy, soda-like substance and then waiting for my blood to be drawn. This is the important glucose tolerance test given to pregnant women to determine if they have gestational diabetes.
Fortunately for me, my glucose tolerance tests always came back showing that I did not have gestational diabetes. However, one of my close friends was not as fortunate. During her first pregnancy, she became unusually thin and was actually losing weight during the pregnancy instead of gaining weight. Her obstetrician suspected that she might have gestational diabetes, which she did. She was then placed on a special diet for the duration of the pregnancy and her blood sugar levels were monitored. After she gave birth, she was perfectly fine and free of any type of diabetes. A few years later, she became pregnant with her second child, and repeated the exact process all over again.
Gestational diabetes occurs when a women who normally does not already have diabetes develops diabetes during her pregnancy. This condition usually occurs around the 24th week of pregnancy, while the fetus is done forming and continuing to grow. About 18% of pregnant women will develop gestational diabetes, although the exact cause is unknown. There are, however, some theories as to what may cause gestational diabetes in an otherwise healthy woman.
During pregnancy , the hormones from the placenta are essential to the development of the growing fetus. At the same time, these hormones block the action of the pregnant mother’s insulin in her own body. This can create what is known as “insulin resistance”. This can make it hard for the mother’s body to use insulin. Gestational diabetes can result when the mother is unable to make and use the insulin it needs during the pregnancy. This allows glucose levels to build up to high levels, resulting in what is known as hyperglycemia.
A mother with gestational diabetes has a greater chance of delivering a large baby. Gestational diabetes causes extra glucose to go to the placenta, in turn making the baby’s pancreas make extra insulin. The baby then receives more energy than is needed to grow and develop, which then causes this extra energy to be stored as fat on the infant’s body. This condition is known as macrosomia. The infant my have decreased glucose levels at birth, and an increased risk for breathing problems. Babies with excessive insulin grow into children with an increased risk of obesity, as well as into adults with a greater chance of developing Type 2 diabetes.
Many women who develop gestational diabetes have no risk factors, which is why it is extremely important to keep all of your scheduled prenatal appointments and follow your doctor’s advice regarding your blood sugar. If you are found to have gestational diabetes, the main goal for the remainder of the pregnancy is to keep blood sugar levels in check, equal to those of someone who does not have gestational diabetes. Treatment for gestational diabetes includes a special diet and increased physical activity during pregnancy.
Most healthy women have no further signs of diabetes after the birth of the baby. However, having gestational diabetes in one pregnancy does make for a greater likelihood of developing it again in subsequent pregnancies.