Gestational diabetes is a health problem that affects two to three percent of pregnant women. This type of diabetes affects only pregnant women and usually develops in the second or third trimester of pregnancy. Unlike Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, gestational diabetes is temporary and lasts only till the time the woman is pregnant.This type of diabetes can affect women who have not suffered from diabetes before.
Without proper care and knowledge, gestational diabetes can cause a number of complications for the mother and the unborn child as well. Before we can understand the ways to prevent gestational diabetes during pregnancy, it is vital to understand the factors that cause diabetes and the complications that it can pose for the expecting mother and baby.
Cause Of Diabetes During Pregnancy
Diabetes is caused by the high blood sugar levels which is the direct result of insufficient insulin production in the body. When we eat, glucose from the food is absorbed into the blood. The pancreas then produces insulin, a hormone which is responsible for absorption and elimination of excess glucose in the blood. During pregnancy, there are many hormonal changes in the body which in turn block the insulin from performing its task. The result is increased insulin production by the pancreas.
If the body is unable to produce the high levels of insulin required for glucose absorption during pregnancy, then it can cause the blood sugar levels to rise and cause hyperglycemia. While any pregnant woman can suffer from this problem, it is usually seen that women who are obese or have a family history of diabetes tend to suffer more from this problem. Other factors that place a pregnant woman at an increased risk of contacting diabetes include high blood pressure, a case of stillbirth previously, polycystic ovary syndrome or having given birth to a large baby.
Complications Caused By Gestational Diabetes
Gestational diabetes when not controlled can lead to a number of problems for the pregnant woman. Premature labor and excessive amniotic fluid around the baby are some of the common complications of diabetes during pregnancy. Pre-eclampsia, a condition marked by increased blood pressure and protein in the urine is another complication for women suffering from gestational diabetes.
Usually the baby’s body is larger than usual due to the increased insulin which leads to growth of excess fat in the child’s body. This can make normal delivery very difficult and in majority of the cases, the woman may require a cesarean operation. Moreover a woman who has had gestational diabetes in pregnancy is at an increased risk of suffering from type 2 diabetes later in life.
Diabetes during pregnancy can cause complications for the baby as well. The large size of the baby can make normal delivery difficult and often during this process the child tends to suffer from fractures or nerve damage in the neck and shoulders. Since the child continues to make excess insulin after birth, the newborn may have hypoglycemia or low blood sugar level. To avoid this mothers should breastfeed their newborns half an hour after the delivery.
The child may also suffer from jaundice and probable birth defects. Some babies tend to suffer from respiratory problems or are overweight. The child is also at an increased risk of suffering from childhood diabetes. If left untreated, high blood sugar levels in the mother can cause stillbirth.
How To Identify Diabetes During Pregnancy
Usually there are no marked symptoms of gestational diabetes. Some common signs that your blood sugar level is high include increased urination, excessive thirst and fatigue. However, it is easy to confuse these signs with the normal symptoms of pregnancy. To diagnose diabetes during pregnancy the doctor will need to carry out a glucose tolerance test after twenty four weeks of pregnancy.
Preventing And Treating Gestational Diabetes
Diabetes during pregnancy can be prevented by making certain lifestyle and dietary changes. The first step that you can take to prevent gestational diabetes is keeping a close watch on your glucose levels. Along with regular blood tests by the doctor, a pregnant woman should also use glucose meter at home to check the glucose levels. This will allow her to take the appropriate steps to keep it in check.
In addition to regular monitoring, it is also essential to keep a check on the diet. Work with your dietitian or health care provider to devise a gestational diabetes diet which is suitable for your condition. Ideally you need to avoid simple carbohydrates and try to include foods with low glycemic index such as complex carbohydrates and high fiber foods that prevent the increase of the blood glucose levels. Foods such as multi grain bread, wheat kernels, rye, all bran or fruits like cherries, apricots, apples or vegetables like zucchini and eggplant should ideally be included in the diet. In addition to this low fat protein sources such as walnuts, legumes and poultry should also be included in the diabetes diet for a pregnant woman.
Along with diet, regular exercises help in keeping the glucose level in check while also keeping your weight under control. Moderate exercises like walking, swimming or yoga helps in keeping the blood sugar levels in control. Do not start off with intensive exercising immediately. Instead start by five to ten minutes of brisk walking and then slowly start including other exercises in your fitness regime. It is a good idea to consult a doctor before you start doing any exercises. In case you are uncomfortable or experience complications like bleeding then stop immediately and call your doctor.
In case you are unable to control your sugar levels, the doctor may give you insulin injections or medications. Even after the baby is born, a woman suffering from gestational diabetes should control her lifestyle and diet to avoid type 2 diabetes later in life.