What is Gestational Diabetes?
During pregnancy, it is not uncommon for certain women to accumulate high blood sugar levels. This is referred to as gestational diabetes, or gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM). Gestational diabetes usually develops sometime between the 24th to the 28th week of the pregnancy.
It has been known to occur in roughly 2-10% of pregnancies.
Developing gestational diabetes does not necessarily mean you had diabetes before you were pregnant, or that you will have it permanently following the pregnancy. However, getting it during pregnancy has been linked to a higher possibility of developing diabetes, specifically type 2, afterward.
If it is not taken care of properly during pregnancy, the condition can also be a risk factor for the future development of diabetes in the child. Complications during the birth and delivery process
can also arise from gestational diabetes.
What are the symptoms?
Gestational diabetes typically does not cause any symptoms, and any that do occur are generally mild, including:
- Blurry vision
- Increased levels of thirst
- Need to urinate
What are the causes?
Despite the fact that the exact cause of gestational diabetes is unknown, it is believed that hormones are involved. During pregnancy, your body produces increased amounts of certain hormones, such as those involved with insulin resistance.
An overabundance of these hormones can lead to an increased resistance to insulin, which is bad news for your body’s ability to regulate your blood sugar levels.
What are some known risk factors?
You have a larger chance of developing gestational diabetes if you:
- Are over 25
- Are expected to have more than one baby
- Have had gestational diabetes previously
- Have had a stillbirth or miscarriage
- Have a history of high blood pressure or diabetes
- Were overweight or obese before your pregnancy
- Have condition(s) related to insulin resistance
- Have given birth to a baby weighing over 9 pounds before
How is it diagnosed?
It is standard practice for most doctors to semi-regularly screen pregnant women for gestational diabetes. If you are not considered high-risk, in terms of the aforementioned factors, you will probably only be screened during weeks 24 and 28 of the pregnancy.
Various blood sugar level tests are carried out to detect gestational diabetes:
- The glucose test, where you drink a solution of glucose before your blood sugar levels are tested for abnormalities an hour later.
- You may be required to undergo a period of fasting, where your blood sugar levels will be recorded. After consuming a carbohydrate solution, your levels will be compared to those taken during the fast. This is referred to as the one-step test.
- Over the course of two days, you will drink two high-sugar solutions. Your blood sugar levels will be recorded and compared as well. This is referred to as the two-step test and does not require any fasting or preparation.
Are there different types?
There are two types of gestational diabetes: A1 and A2. A1 refers to gestational diabetes which can be managed solely through diet regulation. Cases of A2 will require insulin or medication.
What can I do to decrease my risk factors?
Although there are no fool-proof methods for preventing gestational diabetes entirely, there are several habits and activities which lower your chances of having it:
Aerobic exercise, as opposed to anaerobic, is very important for maintaining a constant level of proper fitness. It involves activities that emphasize cardiovascular conditioning and breathing. It has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, as well as improving the function of the lungs. Most importantly, for the purposes of preventing gestational diabetes, it is extremely helpful for weight loss and controlling blood sugar levels.
Examples of low-impact aerobic exercise include:
- Elliptical training machine
- Certain types of upper-body strength training
For people with a busy schedule, or a mid-length commute, activities such as taking the stairs or walking, or cycling to work are especially convenient.
Examples of high-impact aerobic exercise include:
- Moderate skipping rope
- Intense aerobic routines
High-impact aerobic exercises are designed more for people who are regularly active. They require a greater deal of time, energy, and effort, to perform consistently. Stretching and other similar activities are especially vital for high-impact aerobics.
During later stages of pregnancy, it is recommended that women perform about 30 minutes of low-impact aerobic exercise per day. High-impact aerobic exercise is better to do prior to the pregnancy, or at least in earlier stages. Because blood sugar levels and Body Mass Index (BMI) are so closely linked, it is important to try as best as possible to maintain a relatively stable body weight both before and during pregnancy.
Anaerobic exercises, on the other hand, are much more fast-paced and intense and rely more heavily on your body’s stores of glycogen to fuel your workouts, as opposed to oxygen. This form of exercise usually requires a greater level of physical fitness and can be more demanding on the body. High-intensity workouts are great for rapid weight loss and muscle development. Anaerobic exercise is not recommended for women who are in the mid-later stages of pregnancy, but it can be excellent for building up muscle and losing weight beforehand, decreasing the risk of developing gestational diabetes.
Examples of anaerobic exercise include:
- Intense biking
While reducing consumption of high-sugar foods has not been shown to directly impact the risk for gestational diabetes, eating a healthy diet will certainly help with controlling weight fluctuations and maintaining a stable BMI.
Examples of healthy diet habits include:
- Smaller portions, or controlled portion, sizes
- Foods with fructose, such as fruit, as opposed to sucrose, such as candy
- Vegetables and fibrous grains
- Avoiding sugary drinks, and sticking mostly to water
- Lean proteins, such as chicken breast
- Three square meals a day
- Avoiding snacking at random hours
- Low-fat dairy products