~ By Ashley Low
You’ve never had to worry about your blood sugar before. But, now that you’re pregnant you’re suddenly hearing about gestational diabetes. Pregnancy may cause this potentially serious condition. Understanding what it is, how it affects your baby and what you can do about it is a must-do before and during your nine-month journey.
What is gestational diabetes?
Like other types of diabetes, the gestational kind involves the inability to make enough insulin. Why is this so important? Your body needs insulin to process glucose (blood sugar). If you don’t have insulin, or don’t have enough of it, your body can’t turn the sugar that you eat into energy. While the medical pros still aren’t completely sure what causes gestational diabetes, it’s thought that the hormones of pregnancy (from the developing placenta) block the mother’s insulin from working correctly in her own body.
Keep in mind, gestational diabetes doesn’t happen in all pregnancies. According to the International Diabetes Federation, it affects up to 15% of pregnancies across the globe.
How is gestational diabetes diagnosed?
Many doctors routinely test their pregnant patients for this condition. If you have risk factors (such as a high BMI or a family history of the disease) your doctor may test you early on in your pregnancy. If you have no known risk factors your doctor may wait until sometime between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy to test.
Gestational diabetes is typically diagnosed using a glucose challenge test. Your doctor will give you a sugary or syrupy drink of glucose solution and ask you to wait one hour. After the wait, the doctor measures you blood sugar level to determine how your body is processing glucose. A high blood sugar result doesn’t always mean that you have diabetes – it does indicate that you have a higher risk of developing the condition though. To confirm (or rule out) diabetes, you will need to fast overnight and then have your blood sugar measured. Only a trained medical professional can diagnose gestational diabetes.
How does gestational diabetes affect mother and baby?
Unlike other pregnancy-related conditions, this one typically affects women during late pregnancy. This means that it affects your baby during the growth stages and isn’t likely to cause what you may think of as birth defects. That said, if left untreated gestational diabetes can negatively impact your unborn baby.
Diabetes causes a higher level of blood glucose. When your body can’t get rid of the extra sugar it stays in your system, and your baby’s system. The extra glucose your baby gets is stored as fat, leading to what’s called “macrosomia” – or a large baby. This may lead to problems during delivery, such as obstructed labor or injury to the baby.
After birth, babies of mothers with gestational diabetes are more likely to have breathing problems. This is due to a low blood glucose level, caused by baby’s pancreas working overtime to make extra insulin. While your body may go back to normal after delivery, gestational diabetes puts you at an increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes within the next 5 to 10 years.
How is gestational diabetes treated?
Treating gestational diabetes is key to having a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby. Your doctor will instruct you on how to regularly monitor your blood sugar. You may need to change how you eat and add more physical activity to your regular routine. If this doesn’t help to lower your blood sugar you may need insulin injections or an oral diabetes medication to keep your glucose levels in check.
How can gestational diabetes affect everyday life (and my photo shoot)?
Managing gestational diabetes is absolutely essential. The good news is that the treatment won’t put a damper on all the things you want to do during your pregnancy. The biggest changes that you’ll need to make are how (and what) you eat and your exercise schedule. You may need to eat at specific times and stick to a nutrition plan that your doctor/dietician prepares. This doesn’t mean that you need to ‘diet’, but instead eat in a way that helps to lower your blood sugar.
There may be times, such as your photo shoot, when you need to test your blood sugar and eat while you’re out. Blood sugar testing takes only minutes and shouldn’t inconvenience you or your activities. Your new meal plan may make it tricky to eat out. But, you can always pack a lunch or snack ahead of time if you’re on the go.
Gestational diabetes is completely manageable, provided you follow your doctor’s orders. For most women it goes away completely after delivery. This means that if you have gestational diabetes now, and your photo shoot is scheduled for a few weeks/months post-delivery, it’s likely to have resolved itself already!