What is gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that develops during pregnancy, usually in the second or third trimester. Gestational diabetes causes your blood sugar level to rise too high. This can harm you and your unborn baby. Blood sugar levels usually go back to normal after you give birth.
What causes gestational diabetes?
The cause of gestational diabetes is not known. The hormones made by the placenta may cause insulin resistance. Insulin helps move sugar out of the blood so it can be used for energy. Insulin resistance means your pancreas makes insulin but your body cannot use it. As the placenta grows, more of these hormones are produced. The hormones block insulin and cause your blood sugar level to rise.
What increases my risk for gestational diabetes?
- Lack of exercise.
- A close family member with diabetes.
- A history of high blood sugar, high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
- Being overweight or obese.
- Previous delivery of a large baby.
- Glycosuria (sugar in your urine) or polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
- Being African American, Latino, Native American, Asian American or Pacific Islander heritage.
What are the risks of gestational diabetes?
- You have an increased risk for premature (early) labor or a cesarean section delivery.
- You may develop gestational diabetes with future pregnancies.
- You have a higher risk for bladder or vaginal infections.
- You may develop diabetes after you deliver your baby.
- Your baby may weigh more than 8½ pounds at birth.
- Your baby may develop hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) after birth.
- Your baby may develop newborn jaundice (yellowing of the skin) after birth.
Diagnosis & Treatment Options
What are the signs and symptoms of gestational diabetes?
- More hunger or thirst than usual.
- Frequent urination.
- Blurred vision.
- More fatigue (tired) than usual.
- Frequent bladder, vaginal or skin infections.
- More weight gain than your healthcare provider suggests during your pregnancy.
- Nausea or vomiting.
How is gestational diabetes diagnosed?
An oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) is usually done between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy. Your healthcare provider may order either a one-step or two-step OGTT.
- One-step OGTT: Your blood sugar will be tested after you have not eaten for eight hours (fasting). You will then be given a glucose drink. Your blood sugar will be tested again one hour and two hours after you finish the drink.
- Two-step OGTT: You do not have to fast for the first part of the test. You will drink the glucose drink at any time of day. Your blood sugar level will be checked one hour later. If your blood sugar is higher than a certain level, another test will be ordered. You will fast and your blood sugar level will be tested. You will drink the glucose drink. Your blood will be tested again one hour, two hours, and three hours after you finish the glucose drink.
How is gestational diabetes controlled?
Gestational diabetes may be controlled with meal planning and exercise. The goal is to keep your blood sugar level as close to normal, as safely as possible. Your healthcare provider and dietitian will help set up a meal and exercise plan for you.
- Follow your meal plan as directed. Talk to a dietitian or your healthcare provider about the best meal plan for you. Your provider may recommend that you eat three small meals and two to four snacks every day. Control the amount of carbohydrates (such as bread, cereal and fruit) you eat at each meal and snack. Too much carbohydrate in one meal or snack can cause your blood sugar to rise to a high level. Your dietitian or healthcare provider will tell you how much carbohydrate to eat at each meal and snack. Eat foods that are a good source of fiber, such as vegetables and legumes (beans and lentils).
- Ask your healthcare provider about the best exercise plan for you. Exercise helps keep your blood sugar level steady. A good goal is to exercise for at least 30 minutes, five days a week. Low-impact exercises such as walking or swimming are effective.
Preparing for Care
What else can I do to manage my gestational diabetes?
- Check your blood pressure often. High blood pressure can cause problems with your health and your pregnancy. Blood pressure readings are usually written as two numbers. Your systolic blood pressure (the first number) should be between 110 and 129. Your diastolic blood pressure (the second number) should be between 65 and 79.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Ask your healthcare provider how much you should weigh. A healthy weight can help you control your gestational diabetes. Ask your provider to help you create a weight loss plan if you are overweight.
- Do not smoke. Nicotine is dangerous for you and your baby and can make it harder to manage your gestational diabetes. Do not use e-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco in place of cigarettes or to help you quit. They still contain nicotine. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help quitting.
How do I check my blood sugar levels?
You will be taught how to check a small drop of blood in a glucose monitor. Ask your healthcare provider when and how often to check your blood sugar level during the day. You may need to check your blood sugar level at least three times each day.
Ask your healthcare provider what your blood sugar levels should be before and after you eat. Your provider may suggest that your blood sugar level should be at or below 95 mg/dL before you eat. The level may need to be at or below 140 mg/dL one hour after you eat or at or below 120 mg/dL two hours after you eat. Write down your results, and show them to your healthcare provider. He or she may use the results to make changes to your medicine, food and exercise schedules.
When should I seek immediate care?
- Your heartbeat is fast and weak or your breathing is fast and shallow.
- You are more sleepy than usual or become confused.
- You have blurred or double vision.
- Your breath has a fruity, sweet smell.
- You are shaking or sweating.
When should I contact my healthcare provider?
- Your blood sugar level is below 70 mg/dL or above 250 mg/dL and does not improve with treatment.
- You have a headache or you are dizzy.
- You think your baby is not moving as much as usual.
- You have more hunger or thirst than usual.
- You are urinating more often than usual.
- You have an upset stomach and are vomiting.
- You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.