Your body needs sugar to function properly, but it can’t store sugar as fat or muscle. So when you eat carbohydrates — foods that break down into glucose (sugar) in your body — your pancreas releases insulin to help cells absorb the sugar so it can be used for energy. If you have diabetes, either type 1 or type 2, your body doesn’t produce enough insulin or cells don’t use insulin correctly. This causes an imbalance between the amount of glucose in your blood and what your body needs for energy.
Gestational diabetes is a condition wherein your blood sugar levels spike during pregnancy. It’s different from type 1 and type 2 diabetes, which are lifelong conditions that require long-term management.
Gestational diabetes develops during pregnancy because the hormone changes that occur during pregnancy cause insulin resistance in the mother’s body. Insulin resistance means that your body produces more insulin than it needs to process sugars properly. This extra insulin leads to high blood sugar levels.
This can lead to complications for both mom and baby, including:
The main sign of gestational diabetes is high blood glucose levels (hyperglycemia), which can be identified by a blood test. Your doctor will also ask about your symptoms and perform an oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) to confirm the diagnosis. If your blood sugar level is higher than normal, you may need to have another test done one hour after drinking a sugary solution. This second test determines how well your body uses insulin and your sensitivity to glucose (i.e., whether you’re insulin resistant).
Some women with gestational diabetes don’t have any symptoms at all and only find out about their condition when they have their blood sugar tested during pregnancy. Other women may notice milder symptoms such as:
Treatments for gestational diabetes include a healthy diet and regular exercise. If those options don’t work, your doctor may recommend insulin injections or the use of an insulin pump. Here are some of the treatment options.
If you have gestational diabetes, you’ll need to make some adjustments to your diet to help control your blood sugar levels. Eating regular meals at set times is important to keep your blood glucose level stable throughout the day — especially when you’re sleeping.
Regular exercise can help you lose weight and control blood sugar. The best exercise is walking because it doesn’t put too much stress on your joints and other parts of your body. You might also try swimming, dancing, or biking to help you get moving more often. But before doing any form of exercise, make sure to consult your doctor.
If diet and exercise aren’t enough to control your blood sugar levels, your doctor might recommend certain medications that help keep blood sugar in check while you’re pregnant. These include insulin or metformin (Glucophage). Insulin shots are often used when other types of medication aren’t effective enough in controlling blood sugar levels during pregnancy.
Gestational diabetes is not a form of pre-existing diabetes. It’s a serious condition that can be harmful to your baby if left untreated.
You can have gestational diabetes but not have symptoms. For example, you may not notice that you’re thirsty or hungry more than usual or that you’re having trouble thinking clearly. So, during pregnancy, it’s important to see your doctor for regular checkups. They will order a blood test to measure glucose level. Based on interpretation, they will outline the treatment plan.
For a successful pregnancy outcome, it’s critical to control your blood sugar. So, work with your doctor and manage gestational diabetes the right way.