What is gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that appears only in pregnant women who are not already diabetic – usually around the 24th week of pregnancy. Having gestational diabetes does not automatically mean that you will have diabetes after delivery; this form of diabetes occurs when a woman’s pancreatic function is not sufficient to overcome the insulin resistance created by the placenta during pregnancy. Effective control and treatment of gestational diabetes is important for the health of both mother and baby.
What causes gestational diabetes?
During pregnancy the body is producing a number of hormones from the placenta to help the baby grow and develop. These hormones can create a block in the mother’s insulin function, resulting in insulin resistance; the body cannot produce or use the insulin required during pregnancy. The cause of gestational diabetes is not fully understood but there are identified risk factors:
- A family history of type 2 diabetes (parent, brother or sister)
- An unexplained stillbirth or neonatal death in a previous pregnancy
- A very large baby in a previous pregnancy (4.5kg or over)
- You have had gestational diabetes before
- Your family origin is Middle Eastern, South Asian or Black Caribbean.
Preventing gestational diabetes?
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and making healthy choices around food intake and exercise levels before and during pregnancy can reduce the risk of gestational diabetes. Early tests and effective control measures will, in most cases, mean that gestational diabetes disappears after delivery.
How is gestational diabetes treated?
Gestational diabetes treatment will depend on the individual and often involves diet and exercise modifications, as per a clinician’s advice. In some cases, medication and insulin injections may also be necessary. Early detection of gestational diabetes is key to effective treatment and usually results in the disease disappearing after delivery.
Complications of gestational diabetes
In most cases, glucose levels return to normal after delivery but there is evidence that the presence of this type of diabetes can result in complications for both mother and child:
- Children born in these circumstances are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later in life
- The mother is at a considerably higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes and related health issues
- Higher risk of stillbirth
- Higher risk of miscarriage
- Gestational diabetes can affect the weight of the baby at birth; often requiring delivery via a cesarean section.