Gestational diabetes or Gestational Diabetes Mellitus (GDM) is a medical condition in which a woman without diagnosed diabetes develops high levels of blood sugar during pregnancy. This condition generally results in a few symptoms, though it does increase the risk of preeclampsia, C-section and depression.
If mothers are not treated for gestational diabetes, their babies run the risk of being large in size, having low blood sugar soon after birth and they also contract jaundice. Leaving this condition untreated in mothers can cause the babies to be stillborn. Over a protracted period, such children risk being overweight and developing type 2 diabetes. In most cases, gestational diabetes is a temporary form of diabetes which is identified by the inadequate production of insulin to normalize sugar levels during pregnancy. This is also called carbohydrate or glucose intolerance.
However, serious this condition may be, expectant moms can control this condition by eating healthy food, incorporating exercise into their lives and taking appropriate medication. By controlling blood sugar, expectant women can prevent having a difficult birth and keep the baby healthy.
In gestational diabetes, blood sugar usually returns to normal soon after delivery. But if you’ve had gestational diabetes, you’re at risk for type 2 diabetes. You’ll continue working with your health care team to monitor and manage your blood sugar.
Pregnant women go through a series of hormonal and other changes which make them resistant to insulin. When insulin levels fall or the body can’t use it, blood glucose levels rise.
Symptoms of Gestational Diabetes
There are no symptoms associated with gestational diabetes. These cases come to light when the blood sugar levels of pregnant women are tested during a screening for gestational diabetes. If pregnant women suffer from hypoglycaemia, they develop symptoms, such as:
- Increased thirst
- Urge to urinate several times in a day
- Dry mouth
- Sugar in urine
- Frequent bladder, vaginal, and skin infections
- Blurred vision
Some amount of insulin resistance and damaged glucose tolerance is common in the latter part of a pregnancy. In some women, this amount of insulin is sufficient to produce gestational diabetes. Here are the risk factors that can increase the mother’s risk of developing gestational diabetes:
- History of gestational diabetes in an earlier pregnancy
- Birth of an infant with a birth weight of 4 kg
- One parent or a sibling suffering with type 2 diabetes
- History of PCOS
- African, Asian, Hispanic or Pacific Islander American ethnicity
- Having pre-diabetes
Usually, women with gestational diabetes deliver healthy babies. However, if this condition isn’t managed correctly, it could lead to uncontrolled blood sugar levels which could cause untold problems for mother and baby, including the need for a C-section for childbirth.
Complications that could affect the newborn: If the mother has gestational diabetes, the baby could be at risk for the following:
- Excessive birth weight: Extra glucose in the mother’s bloodstream goes over to the placenta, triggering the baby’s pancreas to create extra insulin. Due to this, the baby develops macrosomia or grows excessively large. Extra large babies are those that weigh 4 kg are likely to become cramped in the birth canal; they may also have birth injuries or need to have a C-section birth.
- Preterm birth and respiratory distress syndrome: Due to the mother’s high blood sugar levels, her risk for a premature delivery. Alternatively, her doctor may decide to have a preterm birth because the baby is way too large.
- Respiratory distress syndrome: Premature babies can suffer from respiratory distress syndrome, which is identified by difficulty in breathing. Babies suffering from this condition could need help with breathing till the lungs grow stronger and better. Mothers with gestational diabetes usually have babies with respiratory distress syndrome even if they’re not premature babies.
- Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia):Sometimes babies whose mothers have gestational diabetes suffer from low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) soon after birth because they produce far too much insulin. If mothers go through many episodes of hypoglycemia, it could cause seizures in babies. By giving feeds promptly and intravenous glucose solution sometimes, the baby’s blood sugar level can be normalized.
- Type 2 diabetes in later life: Mothers with gestational diabetes have babies with a higher risk of developing obesity and type 2 diabetes in later life. If gestational diabetes is left untreated, it could result in the death of the baby either before birth or soon after.
Complications that could affect the mother: Gestational diabetes can also increase the mother’s risk for the following:
- High blood pressure and preeclampsia: Gestational diabetes raises the mother’s risk of high blood pressure and preeclampsia, a chronic complication of pregnancy that leads to high blood pressure and related symptoms that can endanger the lives of the new mother and baby.
- Future diabetes: If the mother has gestational diabetes, she is likely to have another recurrence of it during another pregnancy. She is also highly likely to develop type 2 diabetes as she grows older.
Gestational diabetes can be treated by taking the right medication, exercising and eating nutritious food, and of course, having the right attitude.