What you should know about gestational diabetes

If you’re pregnant, or thinking about becoming pregnant, you’re probably reading, researching and talking with your health care team about the best ways to make sure you have a healthy pregnancy. Understanding certain risks can be a key part of making sure you and your baby thrive. 

You might have heard of Type I and Type II diabetes, but there’s another type of diabetes, known as gestational diabetes, that can occur for women during pregnancy. 

How does gestational diabetes happen? The condition usually appears in the middle of a pregnancy. As the placenta that surrounds a baby grows, it creates hormones that reduce the impact of insulin for a mother. Because insulin reduces blood sugar levels, when these hormone levels get too high, they can negatively affect the health of both mother and baby. 

If you’re diagnosed with this condition, it’s important to remember, you’re not alone. According to the CDC, anywhere from 2% to 10% of pregnancies in the United States are affected by gestational diabetes. This may lead to complications, such as:

  • Higher birth weight and a larger baby from an increase in blood sugar, which increases the likelihood of a C-section. 
  • Preeclampsia, a disorder that involves high blood pressure and swelling. When it’s untreated, preeclampsia can lead to seizures or a stroke.
  • Low blood sugar, also known as hypoglycemia, which must also be monitored closely in the baby after birth.

Researchers are still are trying to find out exactly why gestational diabetes occurs. But certain risk factors may increase its likelihood. These include having a family history of diabetes, being older than 25 or being overweight. If you have any of these risk factors, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about any concerns you may have. 

If you do develop gestational diabetes, there is good news: it can be controlled and managed. Your health care team will recommend that you check your blood sugar often, and you may also need to take insulin to help control your blood sugar levels. But more than that, maintaining a healthy lifestyle — including a balanced diet plus regular low-impact exercise — can help.  

It’s important to remember that the risk of diabetes doesn’t go away after delivery. About half of women with gestational diabetes develop Type II diabetes later in life. Because of this, you may want to consider continuing to eat healthy foods and exercising, while keeping a close eye on your blood sugar levels with your OB-GYN and primary care doctor. Having a plan to stay healthy and informed is important whether it’s during the pregnancy or afterwards — for both you and your baby.

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