Gestational diabetes occurs when a woman develops diabetes, or high blood sugars, during pregnancy. Pregnancy hormones block the action of the mother's insulin, which is a hormone needed to bring sugar from the blood into the body’s cells for energy.
When insulin is not working properly, blood sugar rises in the mother and can transfer over to the growing baby, causing the baby to store the extra sugar as fat. The result is “macrosomia”, a term used to describe a very big baby. If a baby is too big, a mother may need a C-section to safely deliver the baby.
Gestational diabetes can be serious if it is not controlled. Gestational diabetes usually goes away after the baby is born, but in some women, the diabetes persists. It is important that a doctor checks the mother’s blood sugar 6 weeks after the baby is born.
Once a woman has had diabetes during pregnancy, her chances are very high (2 in 3) that she will get it again if she becomes pregnant again. Also, many women with diabetes in pregnancy develop type 2 diabetes later in life. Diabetes is a serious disease that can affect the heart, eyes, kidneys, nerves, and feet. Children of women who have had gestational diabetes may also be at higher risk for gaining too much weight or getting diabetes in their teenage years.
Who are the high-risk groups?
Asians, especially South and Central Asian (over 1 in 10 pregnant women); Mexicans (1 in 20); and some Caribbean groups (1 in 20)
Women over 35 years of age
Women who are overweight or obese before pregnancy
Women who have a family member with diabetes
If I am pregnant, how do I know if I have gestational diabetes?
Most doctors and midwives will screen women for gestational diabetes at 24-28 weeks. This screening involves taking a blood test for sugar before eating in the morning, then drinking 50-grams of a pure sugar drink, and having your sugar tested again. If the sugar level in the blood is high, this indicates that you need to be tested further for gestational diabetes.
How can gestational diabetes be managed?
A woman who has been diagnosed with gestational diabetes needs to carefully monitor her blood sugar with a glucose meter. Physical activity and attention to food choices with the help of a nutritionist can help her control her blood sugars. If her sugars are still too high, she may need insulin to protect herself and her growing baby.
Can gestational diabetes be prevented?
You can reduce your risk of gestational diabetes by losing weight, making healthy food choices and being physically active before you get pregnant. This is not always easy. Try to find support from your family, friends, and health care providers.
If I have gestational diabetes, how can I stay healthy after pregnancy?
There are things you can do to help prevent both gestational diabetes in future pregnancies and chronic diabetes later in life.
To stay healthy, you can:
Get more physical activity: Getting at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity (such as a brisk walk) at least 5 days per week can help prevent diabetes. Walk as much as you can. Even if you don't lose weight, regular physical activity will make you healthier.
Make healthy food choices: Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Avoid sugary foods and drinks, including non-diet soda. Eat smaller portions.
Breast-feed your child: Breast-feeding will help you return to your pre-pregnancy weight, and breast-fed infants have lower rates of childhood obesity. Breast feeding also reduces the risk of a mother developing diabetes later on in life.
Lose weight: If you are overweight, losing even a few pounds can help you prevent diabetes.
Set healthy examples for your child: Offer healthy food choices and opportunities to be physically active. Discourage eating in front of the TV, and limit TV, video, and computer games that keep your child from moving. Click here (PDF) for more tips for parents.
Have a regular doctor for you and your new baby. Tell your doctor about your diabetes during pregnancy. Plan a visit to your doctor right before you think about having another baby. If you don’t have a doctor, call 311 for help getting one.