diabetes testing equipment and medications

Guide to Diabetes and Pregnancy

There are a hundred things that may be on your mind when you’re pregnant but going to your regular Ob-Gyn appointments should be at the top of your list. By making sure that you are getting your regular check-ups, you can ensure that you are doing everything that you can to keep yourself and your baby healthy.

Regular check-ups are important for all expectant mothers, but if the mother has preexisting conditions such as high blood pressure, mental health conditions, or diabetes among others, then the need for monitoring increases.

While most women will experience a normal pregnancy without complications, some may develop conditions specific to pregnancy, such as gestational diabetes. These conditions can be treated if they are caught early and monitored throughout the pregnancy, which makes early diagnosis and intervention even more important.

Types of Diabetes

Diabetes is a condition in which the body either can’t make enough insulin or the body doesn’t use insulin effectively. Insulin is a hormone that helps sugar get into the body’s blood cells where it is then used as a primary source of fuel.

In cases of diabetes, the insulin hormone doesn’t work properly. Rather than getting the sugar into blood cells where it can be used, it leaves it to build up in the bloodstream where it cannot be utilized. This leads to several severe problems throughout the body if the condition is not managed.

There are 3 types of diabetes:

  • Type 1: The pancreas makes little to no insulin and sugars and carbohydrates that enter the body cannot be used as fuel. This type of diabetes must be controlled through daily doses of insulin to help regulate the body’s blood sugar levels.
  • Type 2: The body may produce insulin but is incapable of using it to convert sugar to fuel for cells. It is often managed with a mixture of medications and insulin injections.
  • Gestational Diabetes: This occurs in pregnant women who had no history of diabetes before they became pregnant. It is typically diagnosed in the second trimester, between 24 and 28 weeks. At times it may be managed solely through diet, but in other cases, insulin injections may be required.

woman holding apples in hands

What is Gestational Diabetes?

One of the most frequent concerns that pregnant mothers face is gestational diabetes. Approximately 6-9% of women develop gestational diabetes during their second trimester of pregnancy, and it is diagnosed during a routine glucose tolerance test.

Doctors and researchers are still unsure as to what causes some women to develop gestational diabetes, however, there are some risk factors that may increase a woman’s chances including:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Living a sedentary lifestyle
  • Previous history of gestational diabetes or “prediabetes”
  • PCOS
  • Having a large baby previously (over 9lbs)

What is a Glucose Tolerance Test?

A glucose tolerance test is a routine test given to all non-diabetic pregnant women between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy. You will be asked to fast for at least 8 hours before the test, so it is recommended to try to do it early in the morning.

Once you arrive, your blood will be drawn to obtain a baseline sample to compare your subsequent results to. After this initial blood draw, you will be given a very sweet, sugary drink that is a syrupy glucose solution.

This is intended to elevate your blood sugar levels to see how your body responds. Ideally, your body will produce the proper amount of insulin that is needed to convert the excess sugar to energy in your blood cells.

After two hours, your blood will be taken again and will be compared to the initial sample to determine your glucose levels. If the sample comes back high, then you may be required to redo the test for a longer interval to get a more accurate measurement. This will determine if you have gestational diabetes or not.

What are the Potential Complications of Diabetes During Pregnancy?

Although diabetes during pregnancy can be managed with relative ease, it can cause several complications if left untreated or undiagnosed. These complications can affect both you and your baby. The ones that can affect you include:

  • Increased chance of developing preeclampsia and high blood pressure
  • Higher chance of requiring a c-section delivery
  • Increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future
  • Could develop ketoacidosis, a life-threatening condition

In addition to the risks that diabetes can cause you during your pregnancy, there are also significant risks to your unborn child including:

  • Excessive birth weight which can lead to trauma and birth injuries
  • Preterm birth
  • Respiratory distress syndrome in newborns
  • Hypoglycemia in newborns which can lead to seizures
  • Obesity in later life
  • Higher chance of diabetes in later life
  • Birth defects in major organs
  • Stillbirth

Diabetes during pregnancy is a serious, and potentially life-threatening condition if it is undiagnosed or unmanaged. Luckily, when it is caught early it can be treated and managed through diet, exercise, monitoring, and sometimes medication.

fruits and veggies

Is Gestational Diabetes Manageable?

Gestational diabetes is highly manageable when it is diagnosed early and monitored throughout the rest of the pregnancy. In most cases, medication and insulin are not needed and the condition can be monitored by ensuring that you eat a healthy, well-balanced diet and exercise regularly.

In most cases, gestational diabetes goes away after the baby is born.  That said, it is still recommended that if you have had gestational diabetes that you have your blood sugar levels monitored at least once every three months. This is because there is a higher chance of developing Type 2 diabetes later in life once a woman has had gestational diabetes.

Although it may sound scary, gestational diabetes is highly manageable with the care and guidance of your healthcare provider. You can still have a happy, healthy baby and a wonderful pregnancy even if you develop gestational diabetes.