Gestational diabetes, which occurs during pregnancy, is marked by high blood sugar levels that might be due to hormone changes, and insulin resistance. In fact, moms with this type of diabetes may need up to three times as much insulin during pregnancy than before or after.
Women who develop gestational diabetes are likely to face the same issue with future pregnancies. These women also tend to develop type 2 diabetes later in life— the link may be explained by the similar risk factors for both type 2 and gestational diabetes.
Being more than 20 percent overweight increases the risk of diabetes. Losing weight can help avoid diabetes altogether, though pregnant women should not attempt to lose weight unless under the direction of a health care professional.
The treatment of gestational diabetes is centered around a specific diet, tailored to be healthy and achieve the same blood sugar levels as pregnant women who do not have diabetes.
Women with gestational diabetes should focus on a diet that is moderate in fat and protein. They should look to control their carb intake by eating a variety of fruits, vegetables and complex carbs like bread or rice. In addition, foods with a lot of sugar should be avoided, including soda and pastries.
Regular exercise combats insulin resistance, allowing the body to use sugar without extra insulin. Pregnant women should not begin an exercise program without first checking with their doctor.
Gestational diabetes can cause problems for the baby. The high blood sugar levels in the mom cause high blood sugar levels in the baby, prompting the baby’s pancreas to produce more insulin and store extra sugar as fat.
Bigger babies face higher risks of complications during birth, including damage to their shoulders. Newborns can have very low blood sugar levels and are at higher risk for breathing problems. These babies with extra insulin are at higher risk for childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes.
In addition to managing gestational diabetes with a healthy diet and exercise, some women may need to monitor blood sugar levels several times each day. The American Diabetes Association has glycemic goals for women with gestational diabetes to use as guidelines before each meal and an hour and two hours afterward.
With the help of their doctors, women may be able to have a healthy pregnancy and birth, prevent the need for C-section, and protect the baby’s future health.
Some women may need to take insulin injections to lower blood sugar levels. Insulin is typically the only diabetes medication used by pregnant women, and it does not cross the placenta.
However, if women develop type 2 diabetes after pregnancy, they will need to be aware of the risks of other diabetes medications. Byetta and Januvia are effective in controlling type 2 diabetes, but have been linked to acute pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer. Actos, another diabetes drug, has been linked to bladder cancer.
Linda Grayling is a writer for Drugwatch.com, a consumer advocacy website. She stays up to speed on the latest medical news, including recalls and clinical trials.