Worldwide, diabetes affects more than 380 million people, and by 2030, the World Health Organization expects that number to double. This disease can cause serious health complications, and is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States. With such a high incidence, the need to embrace preventative measures is more important now than ever before.
Gestational diabetes develops in 2% – 5% of all pregnancies, and is more commonly diagnosed in individuals who are African American, Hispanic/Latino, or American Indians, obese, or those who have a family history of diabetes. During pregnancy, your body works hard to make additional hormones and goes through other changes, such as weight gain. These changes cause your body’s cells to use insulin less effectively, a condition called insulin resistance. For most women, this isn’t a problem – when the body needs additional insulin, the pancreas works to create more. However, for some individuals, the pancreas can’t keep up with the increased demand for insulin, which causes blood glucose levels to rise too high, crossing the placenta and resulting in a diagnosis of gestational diabetes.
Untreated or poorly controlled gestational diabetes can put your baby at risk for serious health complications. Fetal macrosomia is a condition where a baby is born at a higher than average birth weight, which can cause injury to the baby’s shoulders during a vaginal birth. Newborns may also be at a higher risk for breathing problems, and in some cases babies who experience high levels of glucose in utero may be more prone to type 2 diabetes and obesity later in life.
To reduce your risk of developing gestational diabetes, you should work to achieve a healthy body weight before becoming pregnant. Eat healthy foods, drink plenty of water, and aim to be physically active for at least 150 minutes per week.
Once you become pregnant, you should aim to follow the weight gain recommendations outlined by your physician. During your second prenatal visit, we will perform a blood draw to check your Hemoglobin A1C. The results from this test will be able to tell us if you are at risk of developing gestational diabetes during your pregnancy, and additional testing or monitoring may be recommended by your physician. Between 24 and 28 weeks a one hour glucose test will be performed by drawing your blood again. If your value from this test is elevated, you will have to complete a more comprehensive test known as a three hour glucose test. If you fail this test, your physician will refer you to a nutritionist who will closely monitor your diet and blood sugar levels. Some women may require supplemental insulin injections.
Although you may find these tests to be an additional burden during pregnancy, the results can provide your physician with valuable information that will help ensure a healthy pregnancy and uncomplicated delivery. Speak with your doctor during your next visit to learn more about how to prevent gestational diabetes during pregnancy.