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Melissa Little
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Pediatric and Antenatal Dietician. She is a spokesperson for the British Dietetics Association on TV and in print. Member of the parliamentary group for a Fit and Healthy Childhood at Westminster for the UK Government.
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Pregnancy Health

Gestational diabetes

Gestational Diabetes is a form of diabetes brought on by pregnancy which leads to higher than normal blood sugar levels. Pregnant women are screened in the second trimester to see how they metabolise glucose. If your blood sugar is high you will be invited for a full glucose tolerance test to diagnose gestational diabetes. If you have gestational diabetes your antenatal team will set out a management plan for the rest of the pregnancy and birth.
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In Short
Gestational diabetes means diabetes when you are pregnant.

Symptoms include higher than normal blood sugar.

Pregnant women are screened between 24-28 weeks with a Lucozade or soda test to see how effectiently they process a known amount of glucose in an hour.

If your reading is high you will be asked to take a full three-hour glucose tolerance test to diagnose gestational diabetes. Most women asked the take this test will be found not to have gestational diabetes.

Gestational diabetes occurs in 3-5% pregnancies. The risk increases if you are overweight or an older woman.

If you have gestational diabetes your baby may grow very large which might have implications for your birth plan.

Gestational diabetes can occur by chance, or maybe because a pregnant woman is overweight or eating poorly, or the cause may be hormonal.

You can minimise your chances of getting gestational diabetes by eating healthily and avoiding a high sugar diet.

Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes, or diabetes during pregnancy, is characterised by higher than normal sugar in your blood during pregnancy. It can be detected by screening when you are between 24-28 weeks pregnant. The test for gestational diabetes is called the oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) after the sweet drink your blood will be tested to see how it coped with the sugar in the blood.

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It occurs in 3-5% of all pregnancies and carries a risk both for mother and baby. Gestational diabetes in the mother can lead to your baby growing very big and sometimes if your baby is measuring big you will be tested for gestational diabetes immediately.

For some women, gestational diabetes is just something they just get and nobody’s really sure why, but for others, it can be linked to excessive weight gain during pregnancy or poor diet during pregnancy. It’s also thought to be caused by a variety of hormones produced by the placenta, which weaken the insulin action in your body. As you approach the third trimester and the levels of these hormones increase, the blood sugar levels in your body can rise. If your pancreas isn’t producing enough insulin to counteract these higher levels, you might end up getting gestational diabetes.

You are more likely to get gestational diabetes if you are overweight and/or over thirty.

Symptoms of gestational diabetes include:
  • Extreme exhaustion & irritability – often people just attribute this to the pregnancy.
  • Unusual thirst – again, this can be misinterpreted as a symptom of pregnancy cause just by increased pressure on the bladder, leading to more frequent urination and dehydration.
  • Blurred vision – this is a common symptom of diabetes in general. It is caused by the high sugar levels in the blood damaging the blood vessels in your eyes.
  • Frequent infections – your immune system can be weakened by diabetes, which can lead to more frequent infections, usually of the skin, vagina and bladder.
  • Loss of weight – the inability of cells to metabolise glucose can lead to unexplained weight loss.

Since many of these symptoms can be mistaken for pregnancy alone, a blood sugar screen test helps to pick up cases.

In order to minimise your chances of getting gestational diabetes, stick to a diet that’s high in fruit and vegetables and whole grains, and low in foods and drinks that are high in sugar.

Additionally, if you do get diagnosed with gestational diabetes, you want to choose foods that have a low glycemic index such as wholemeal bread, pasta and other foods that are high in fibre, and avoid sugary drinks and foods.

Will I have diabetes after my baby is born?

In most women with gestational diabetes, their blood sugar levels return to normal after the birth. However, there is an increased likelihood of developing Type 2 Diabetes in the future, so you should be tested for this 6-8 weeks after your baby is born and for prediabetes every 3 years after having your baby. Again, if you have gestational diabetes in one pregnancy, the chances are higher you’ll have it in any subsequent pregnancies as well.

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DISCLAIMER
This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Essential Parent has used all reasonable care in compiling the information from leading experts and institutions but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details click here.