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By Kathleen Kennedy, MD

Gestational Diabetes: Risk Factors and Treatments

Diabetes in pregnant women is on the rise nationally. It’s important to understand the risks of gestational diabetes and how to care for yourself during pregnancy.

Cases of gestational diabetes are on the rise in the U.S. Every year, up to 10% of pregnant women develop gestational diabetes, putting mothers and babies at risk for a variety of health concerns.

Unlike Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, gestational diabetes is caused by changing hormones during pregnancy. It usually develops around the 24th week of pregnancy. However, gestational diabetes also causes your blood sugar to be too high.

Insulin is an important hormone produced by the pancreas that breaks down sugar in the food we eat, keeping our blood sugars at a healthy level. The extra hormones released during pregnancy can cause our bodies not to make or use insulin properly. This causes high blood sugar.

Untreated gestational diabetes can lead to health problems for both you and your baby. It increases your risk of:

  • Developing high blood pressure
  • Pre-term labor
  • Having a baby larger than 9 pounds
  • Having a C-section delivery

Gestational diabetes also puts the baby at higher risk for blood sugar problems, birth trauma and developing Type 2 diabetes in the future.

Gestational diabetes is diagnosed with a blood test at 24-28 weeks of pregnancy. A glucose screening test measures your blood sugar one hour after drinking a sugary liquid. Depending on the result, you may have additional tests to confirm or rule out diabetes.

Risk Factors

Any pregnant person can develop gestational diabetes, but certain factors increase the risk. You may be more likely to have gestational diabetes if you:  

  • Had it in a previous pregnancy
  • Are overweight
  • Are 25 or older
  • Have given birth to a baby that weighed more than 9 pounds
  • Have a family history of Type 2 diabetes
  • Have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • Are Black, Latino, Native American, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander

The best way to reduce your risk of gestational diabetes is to maintain a healthy weight and get regular exercise before becoming pregnant. If you are already pregnant, talk to your doctor about the best ways to stay healthy.

Related reading: Are Pregnant Women Really Eating for Two? Not Quite

Treating Gestational Diabetes

There’s no cure for gestational diabetes, but it can be managed with expert care. If you’ve been diagnosed, follow your doctor’s treatment plan, which may include:

  • Checking your blood sugar regularly
  • Eating a healthy diet on a schedule provided by a registered dietitian
  • Keeping track of carbohydrates, which can affect your blood sugar
  • Staying active with moderate exercise

If diet and exercise alone aren’t enough, your doctor may prescribe insulin or other medications to help keep your blood sugar under control.

Your doctor will watch your pregnancy very closely, so it’s important to go to all your appointments. You’ll likely receive follow up ultrasounds and or non-stress test once or twice a week until you deliver to check the health of your placenta and see how your baby is growing. Non- stress tests involve being hooked up to a monitor for about 30 minutes. You’ll also be asked to keep track of your baby’s kicks or movements to make sure your baby is developing normally.

Blood sugar levels usually return to normal after delivery. However, about 50% of people with gestational diabetes develop Type 2 diabetes later in life. That’s why it’s important to maintain a healthy weight, eat a balanced diet and get regular exercise after childbirth.

If you’ve been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, our specialists can help you manage your condition. We offer free diabetes education classes and other resources to help you stay healthy.

To find out whether you or a loved one might benefit from Ob/Gyn care
Categories: Women's Health