Causes: It is believed that when the bodily systems cannot cope with the increasing demands placed by the body, then a situation like gestational diabetes arises. In short, hormonal imbalance leads to diabetes during pregnancy. Either the body cannot produce enough insulin (the hormone that triggers glucose absorption by cells) giving rise to type 1 diabetes or the cells become immune to insulin leading to type 2 diabetes. The hormones produced by the placenta interfere with the cell’s normal response to insulin. In either case, high blood sugar levels are detected which can prove to be harmful for both baby and the mother.
Symptoms: Apart from high blood sugar levels, the pregnant woman may notice increased thirst and hunger, nausea, vomiting, blurred vision, weight loss in spite of increased appetite, frequent urination, frequent bladder, vaginal and/or skin infections, excessive fatigue, etc. The symptoms are mild in most cases. Some women may not notice any symptoms at all.
Risk factors: Being overweight, having family history of diabetes, being above 30 years of age, are the risk factors for developing gestational diabetes. Women who have had gestational diabetes during previous pregnancy, those who have given birth to heavy weight and large babies or babies with birth defects or stillborn babies, need to get examined for gestational diabetes.
Gestational Diabetes Complications
Mother: A woman with gestational diabetes may require up to three times as much insulin, to remove accumulated glucose from the blood. As glucose is not absorbed by the cells properly, it is not converted into energy. So the woman may experience excessive tiredness and low energy levels. Statistics show that women diagnosed with gestational diabetes usually develop diabetes in the next 10-20 years. Women with gestational diabetes are more susceptible to pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure) and protein in urine, leading to complications during delivery.
Baby: Babies born to diabetic mothers would be large in size, giving rise to problems during delivery. The excessive glucose in the mother’s blood is passed over to the baby through placenta. As a result, baby’s pancreas starts producing excessive insulin. Extra glucose to the baby leads to extra energy which is stored in the form of fat. So the chances of having overweight baby increases. Moreover, the baby may be born with low blood sugar levels. Undiagnosed or untreated gestational diabetes can hurt the baby seriously. The baby may be born with breathing problems. The baby may have polycythemia (excessively high quantity of red blood cells in the blood). Chances of jaundice and low blood calcium levels are also high in newborn infants. It has been noticed that these babies become obese when they grow up. Problem (or delayed development) in coordination, walking and balancing may affect the life of these children.
Gestational Diabetes Treatment
Medications: Depending upon the severity of symptoms, doctors may prescribe anti-diabetic drugs and insulin.
Diet: Good news is that the condition can be easily managed with dietary alterations and moderate exercise. Gestational diabetes meal plan includes food with low glycemic index. Women with gestational diabetes need to follow a low fat, low carb diet. They should include fiber rich vegetables and fruits in diet. They may eat protein rich foods but should avoid starchy foods. They should have small but frequent meals to avoid sudden fluctuations in blood sugar levels. This also helps lose weight. The women need to watch weight gain or weight loss carefully. They may follow a 1700-1800 calorie diet.
Exercise: Regular exercise like walking helps prevent high blood sugar levels. A gestational diabetes diet without exercises would not be helpful in controlling the blood sugar levels.
Oral glucose tolerance test, blood test, urine test, etc., help diagnose gestational diabetes. Women who are at a greater risk of developing gestational diabetes should undergo tests at regular intervals. There is no need to panic if you have any symptoms of gestational diabetes. With perfect planning and utmost care, you can avoid health complications due to gestational diabetes.