Gestational Diabetes: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment Methods

Written by Chhandita Chakravarty
Last Updated on

Table of contents:

Pregnancy is a wondrous journey. There is no denying that fact, but there is also no denying that it is fraught with complications. Your body is at its most fragile during pregnancy. While some problems are a mere nuisance, others can prove to be risky. One of the more common pregnancy problems is gestational diabetes (GD). Gestational diabetes in pregnancy can cause many complications and need to be treated on time. Read on as MomJunction tells you why you can get GD, and you can deal with it.

What Is Gestational Diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is the high blood sugar levels developing during pregnancy. It is diagnosed in the later stages of pregnancy and can occur even in women who do not have a history of diabetes.

Causes Of Gestational Diabetes:

Experts are not sure about what causes gestational diabetes. But it is helpful to understand how glucose impacts your body when you are pregnant.

The digested food produces glucose, which enters your bloodstream. This nudges the pancreas into action to make insulin, an important hormone that shifts the glucose from your bloodstream to the cells. The cells then use this glucose to make energy that fuels the body.

But when you are pregnant, things change. Now the placenta comes into the picture and starts pumping a number of other hormones. Many of these hormones hamper the working of insulin, leading to a raised level of glucose in your bloodstream.

At the beginning of your pregnancy, the change is minor. But as it progresses, the placenta goes into hyper mode and increasingly produces insulin-blocking hormones. When the level of blood sugar crosses the danger mark, you develop gestational diabetes.

[ Read: Prenatal Testing ]

Symptoms Of Gestational Diabetes:

So, how do you know if you have gestational diabetes? Check out for the symptoms and signs of diabetes in pregnancy listed below:

  • Sugar in urine
  • Excessive thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Frequent infections of the bladder, vagina, and skin
  • Blurred vision

If you experience these symptoms, talk to your doctor about them. In any case, the healthcare provider checks for GD as part of your routine pregnancy tests.

Diagnosis Of Gestational Diabetes:

Once you are pregnant, your doctor will keep an eye on your sugar levels. Most tests for GD are conducted in the last three months of the pregnancy. The tests include:

1. Initial glucose challenge test:

For this test, you’ll need to drink a syrupy glucose solution. An hour later, your blood will be tested to check for blood glucose level. If the test shows that your blood glucose level is higher than normal, you are at a risk of developing gestational diabetes. The only way to get 100% diagnosis is to get a glucose tolerance test.

2. Glucose tolerance test:

You’ll need to fast overnight for this test. In the morning, your blood sugar level is tested. Then you need to drink a sweet drink, sweeter than the glucose syrup that you drank during the initial test. Then, your blood sugar level will be checked every hour for three hours. If two of these tests show higher than normal blood sugar levels, then you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes.

[ Read: Eating Sugar During Pregnancy ]

But what is it that makes gestational diabetes scary?

Complications Of Gestational Diabetes And Risks For Mother And Baby:

GD leads to some complications:

1. Excessive birth weight:

If you have gestational diabetes, the chances of your baby being large are high (1). This is because the extra glucose in your blood encourages your baby’s pancreas to make extra insulin that results in excess weight. If you are looking forward to a vaginal birth, gestational diabetes can play spoilsport. Excessive birth weight, more often than not, requires a C-section birth. Not just that! Babies born heavy are more likely to be overweight as they grow up.

2. Preterm birth and respiratory distress syndrome:

If you have high blood sugar, you run the risk of developing preterm labor (2). Babies born prematurely are more likely to suffer from breathing issues. If you have gestational diabetes, your baby is at a higher risk of developing respiratory distress syndrome, even if she is born on time.

3. Low blood sugar:

Your baby can also develop low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) shortly after birth if you have gestational diabetes. Hypoglycemia can lead to seizures in the baby (3).

4. Type 2 diabetes:

If you have gestational diabetes, you put your baby at a higher risk of getting type 2 diabetes later in life. Not just your baby, you too are at a risk of developing diabetes later in life if you have GD (4).

5. Stillbirth:

If gestational diabetes remains undetected or untreated, it can even lead to a baby’s death before or immediately after birth (5).

6. Preeclampsia:

Preeclampsia is scary. It can put both your and your baby’s life in danger. If you have GD, you are at a higher risk of developing high blood pressure and preeclampsia.

[ Read: Tips To Lose Weight During Pregnancy ]

Gestational Diabetes: Who Is At Risk?

Anyone can develop gestational diabetes. But if you fall into any of the following categories, you are at an increased risk.

1. Age:

If you are older than 25, gestational diabetes will become a real threat to your pregnancy (6).

2. Family history:

If anybody in your family has diabetes, you are at an increased risk of developing GD (7).

3. Pre-diabetes:

If you already have elevated blood glucose levels, although slight, your risk of developing GD goes up manifold (8).

4. History of gestational diabetes:

If you had GD during a past pregnancy, chances are high that you’ll get it this time around too.

5. Excess weight:

If you are overweight or obese, you are likely to get GD (9).

6. Ethnicity:

Caucasian women are relatively safe from GD. Black, Hispanic, and Asian women are at a greater risk of developing gestational diabetes (10).

How To Manage Gestational Diabetes:

GD can be managed easily. Here are some ways you can manage gestational diabetes during pregnancy:

1. Monitoring blood sugar:

If you have gestational diabetes, you’ll need to check your blood sugar levels a number of times every day. This will help keep your levels under check.

Your doctor too will keep a close eye on your blood sugar levels all through the pregnancy. As the size of your baby is a concern, you may be induced if you fail to go into labor on your due date.

Even after the delivery, it is important to follow up with your doctor as you are at an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

2. Close monitoring of your baby:

On the D-day, your doctors will keep a close watch on your sugar level as too much sugar makes your baby’s pancreas to release insulin, leading to a dip in her blood sugar level after birth. In that case, your healthcare provider will monitor your baby at birth and later as well.

3. Medication:

Many times, you won’t need medication to treat gestational diabetes. But if the above points don’t work, you may need injections. Your doctor might recommend insulin injections to lower your blood sugar levels. Some doctors may even prescribe oral medication. Don’t worry, most diabetes medication is absolutely safe during pregnancy.

How To Prevent Gestational Diabetes:

It may be an old saying, but it is still true! Prevention is better than cure. So, if you want to make sure that gestational diabetes stays miles away from you, try the following:

1. Eat healthy:

Whether you are pregnant or trying to conceive, make sure you eat well. Healthy diet for gestational diabetes can make a lot of difference. Fill your diet with high-fiber and low-fat foods. What your diet needs is variety. So, eat wholesome meals, without compromising your health (11).

2. Exercise:

You need to work out to stay fit. Plan a workout schedule and stick to it. You don’t need to hit the gym to stay fit. You can walk, cycle, or swim to get the same results. If you don’t feel like doing even that, spend some time doing household chores and take the stairs, whenever you can. These small steps will go a long way in keeping you healthy.

3. Lose weight before you get pregnant:

If you are overweight, try getting in shape before you try to get pregnant.

4. Be watchful of the symptoms:

If you notice symptoms that point towards diabetes, head to the doctor. Even if it is nothing, at least you’ll not be taking any chances. Better safe than sorry, right?

Dietary Recommendations For Gestational Diabetes:

The food you eat has a huge impact on your health. This is especially true when you have gestational diabetes. If you have GD, you need to eat right, as a healthy and balanced diet can go a long way in managing high blood sugar levels during pregnancy.

The basic recommendation for all pregnant women is to include 300 extra calories per day to meet the baby’s requirement. All you have to do is plan the 300 extra calories in the right way to make sure that the needs are met without a spike in blood sugar levels. Below we’ve listed foods, which you should include or avoid if you’re suffering from gestational diabetes.

[ Read: Green Tea In Pregnancy ]

What Foods Should You Eat?

During pregnancy, it is important to focus on the quality of food and also keep blood glucose levels in check. Certain foods that you may particularly want to include in your pregnancy diabetes diet plan are:

  • Whole grains
  • Lean meats
  • Fruits like apple, tomatoes, and banana
  • Vegetables, particularly green leafy vegetables
  • Non-fat dairy products like Greek yogurt
  • Fish, especially salmon
  • Eggs
  • Poultry
  • Beans

What Foods Should You Avoid?

When you’re diagnosed with diabetes, you should avoid highly processed foods or anything that includes a lot of sugar. Steer clear of foods like:

  • Alcoholic beverages (which you must anyway avoid if you are pregnant)
  • Baked foods like cakes, muffins, cookies, pastries
  • Sugary drinks like soda, juice and shakes
  • Candies
  • Fast or junk food
  • Starchy foods like white rice and potato
  • Foods that contain sugar alcohols such as isomalt, sorbitol, mannitol, maltitol, xylitol etc (12).

Even if you’re not diabetic, control your consumption of these foods as they have little or no nutritional value. You could consider adding foods that contain artificial sweeteners (after your doctor’s recommendation) or choose natural sweetening agents such as honey.

[ Read: Foods To Avoid During Pregnancy ]

Basic Meal Planning:

If you’re suffering from gestational diabetes, you may need to tweak your meal plan a bit to include at least 12 carbohydrate choices every day. Here’s a sample meal plan for you to refer.

2 to 3 carbohydrate-rich foods that equal to 30 to 45 grams
Protein sourced from meat, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese, peanut butter
Vegetable or fat, freely
3 to 4 carbohydrate-rich foods equaling to 45 to 60 grams
Protein sourced from meat, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese, peanut butter
vegetable or fat, freely
3 to 4 carbohydrate-rich foods equaling to 45 to 60 grams
Protein sourced from meat, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese, peanut butter
vegetable or fat, freely
Morning Snack:Afternoon Snack:Evening Snack:
1 to 2 carbohydrate-rich foods equaling to 15 to 30 grams
Protein sourced from meat, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese, peanut butter
vegetable or fat, freely
1 to 2 carbohydrate-rich foods equaling to 15 to 30 grams
Protein sourced from meat, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese, peanut butter
vegetable or fat, freely
1 to 2 carbohydrate-rich foods equaling to 15 to 30 grams
Protein sourced from meat, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese, peanut butter
vegetable or fat, freely

Note: For a customized diabetic diet plan during, talk to your nutritionist and work as per her recommendations.

Food Dos and Don’ts:

Apart from knowing about the foods, you must add to your diet, you might want to know what to do and not to do with your diet.

  • Include a reasonable amount of starch.
  • Avoid consuming too much of milk in one go; limit the intake to a cup at a time.
  • Never skip your breakfast. Choose a breakfast that contains starch and protein to keep your blood glucose levels in check.
  • Avoid fruit juices as most of them contain sugars and lack fiber. Choose fresh fruit instead and limit the portions to one at a time.
  • Have short meals spread out throughout the day as opposed to two to three full meals.
  • Also, make sure you monitor your blood glucose levels regularly to check your dietary progress.

[ Read: Foods To Eat During Pregnancy ]

Safe Exercises:

Like we have mentioned above, you need regular physical activity to stay fit and healthy and manage gestational diabetes. When you work out, your body moves glucose from your blood into your cells. This keeps the level of sugar in your blood under control. And that’s not all! Working out during pregnancy also provides relief from back pain, muscle cramps, swelling, constipation and insomnia.

Pregnancy can be tough, more so if you get gestational diabetes. But thankfully, GD is increasingly becoming manageable. Therefore, do not worry about GD. Work on your lifestyle and food habits, and you can sail through your pregnancy smoothly.

Did this article help you understand how to handle diabetes during pregnancy? How did you deal with gestational diabetes in pregnancy? Share with us!

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