What is Gestational Diabetes?
Gestational Diabetes occurs in pregnant women who did not have diabetes before becoming pregnant. Gestational diabetes affects approximately 2-10% of all pregnant women in the United States.
Although gestational diabetes can be scary, it is a condition that is preventable or controlled by making lifestyle changes. When lifestyle changes are not enough, there are effective medications that can assist in treating the condition during pregnancy.
Insulin is a hormone made in the pancreas. It allows your body to use sugar and convert it into energy. Insulin production is interrupted or affected due to hormonal changes during pregnancy. Pregnancy causes your body to need more insulin.
What Are the Risks to You and Your Baby?
Developing gestational diabetes during pregnancy presents many health risks to you and your baby. These include:
- Babies born to mothers who develop gestational diabetes gain weight at a higher rate. This can increase labor risks and difficulties during delivery due to the large size of the baby.
- The risk of having a premature baby increases. This may lead to other complications such as underdeveloped lungs, heart, and other major organs.
- Gestational diabetes can cause the baby to have low blood sugar. Low blood sugar in newborns can cause seizures. Newborns can need intravenous glucose to return levels to normal at birth.
- About 50% of mothers that develop gestational diabetes are more likely to develop type II diabetes after pregnancy.
- Babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes are more likely to develop obesity or type II diabetes later in life.
- The risk of stillbirth increases when the mother develops gestational diabetes.
- Developing gestational diabetes also increases your risk of developing preeclampsia, high blood pressure, and other complications during pregnancy.
- Women who develop gestational diabetes are more likely to deliver by C-Section.
Who is at Risk for Developing Gestational Diabetes?
People who are more likely to develop gestational diabetes are:
- Women who were obese before becoming pregnant
- Women who have a mother, father, sibling, or child with diabetes
- Women who developed gestational diabetes during a previous pregnancy
- Women who are not physically active before or during pregnancy
- Women who have suffered from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
- Women who have previously delivered a baby weighing more than 9 pounds
- Women of a certain race or ethnicity, including Black, Hispanic, American Indian, and Asian American
If you have any of these risk factors and become pregnant, please notify your OBGYN immediately to ensure that you take proper preventative measures. Your medical team needs to keep a close eye on your health and your baby’s health through frequent monitoring and ultrasounds.
There is no sure way of preventing gestational diabetes. However, there are several things that you can do to decrease your chances of developing it.
If you have any risk factors associated with gestational diabetes, pay close attention to your body during pregnancy and follow all treatment recommendations from your doctor.
How Do You Know If You Have Gestational Diabetes?
In most cases of gestational diabetes, you do not experience any symptoms. Sometimes, you will develop symptoms similar to type I or type II diabetes, including excessive hunger, thirst, and frequent urination. It is necessary to undergo testing to confirm whether you have developed gestational diabetes.
The testing for gestational diabetes occurs between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy. On average, women develop gestational diabetes at 24 weeks of pregnancy.
For the initial test, you must drink a sugary glucose drink and then complete blood work one hour later to determine your blood glucose level. Any result of 190 milligrams or more of blood glucose is considered high. A standard range is 140 milligrams or less of blood glucose.
If the levels on the initial screen are problematic, a second test is performed.
During the second test, you will drink another sugary drink with even more sugar than the first. Blood work will be taken once per hour for three hours after drinking the solution. If two or more of the readings are over the normal range, a diagnosis of gestational diabetes is confirmed.
What Do I Do If I Am Diagnosed with Gestational Diabetes?
The first step you should take after being diagnosed with gestational diabetes is to make lifestyle changes. These changes should include making changes to your diet and activity level.
You should have 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day during pregnancy. Your activity level during pregnancy will depend on your activity before becoming pregnant. Working up to 30 minutes of activity in small increments is important if you were already active before pregnancy.
Start slowly and increase your daily exercise until you meet your 30-minute goal. Staying active will allow your body to regulate insulin levels and insulin production in your body naturally.
What is a Gestational Diabetes Diet Plan?
It is essential to change your diet to include a Low Glycemic Diet. All foods have a Glycemic Index (GI). The GI system ranks all foods on a scale of 1-100 based on their effect on your blood sugar levels.
It is essential to know the GI of food to know how much that food will affect your blood sugar. A Low Glycemic Diet aims to consume foods low on the GI scale.
Foods that you should eat while following a Gestational Diabetic Diet Plan include:
- Protein – The best proteins include chicken, turkey, and fatty fish. Other protein-rich foods are eggs, nuts, and legumes.
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Fiber-rich foods – Fiber-rich foods allow you to stay fuller longer and help control blood sugar levels longer.
- Whole Grains – This includes foods containing whole wheat, brown rice, barley, quinoa, and oats.
- Low Fat or Nonfat Dairy – This includes yogurt, cheeses, and milk.
Foods that you should avoid eating while following a Gestational Diabetic Diet Plan:
- All processed food
- Canned fruits and vegetables
- Any sugary foods
- Any drinks that contain sugar which includes juice, soda, or energy drinks
- Foods high in carbohydrates, specifically foods high in complex carbohydrates such as foods containing flour, bread, white rice, pasta, or tortillas
- Any foods high in sodium
Other things to consider:
- Maintain appropriate portion sizes at each meal.
- Ensure you eat in appropriate increments throughout the day to keep your blood sugar stable. For example, eating three balanced meals and three healthy snacks spread throughout the day. Eating a small meal or snack every 2-3 hours is best to keep blood sugar levels regulated.
The American Diabetes Association has recommended portion sizes and recipes to ensure you are following a diet that will help keep you and your child safe.
What Happens if Lifestyle Changes are Not Enough?
Sometimes, you have made all the necessary lifestyle changes, and your blood sugar levels are still not being maintained at a healthy level. Medication may be required to ensure that your gestational diabetes is under control.
Metformin is a medication commonly used to treat gestational diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, this medication has proven safe and effective for pregnant women and their babies.
Insulin is a common medication used to regulate your blood sugar when you have gestational diabetes. There are different insulin delivery types, such as pens, injections, inhalers, or pumps. Insulin is manufactured under different brand names, which include:
If you have experienced trouble affording your medications or if your insurance will not cover these medications, contact us today. At The Rx Advocates, we specialize in matching your prescription needs with any available resources. Contact us today to discuss your options for affording these life-saving medications to keep you and your baby safe.