What is Gestational Diabetes?
Gestational Diabetes is a form of diabetes that occurs during the pregnancy and then goes away after the baby is born. Around 3-8% of pregnant women will develop Gestational Diabetes at around 28 weeks of pregnancy, as this is the time that most women are tested. Certain women are at higher risk of developing Gestational Diabetes due to their ethnic background (Indian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Middle Eastern, Polynesian/Melanesian), being Indigenous Australian or Torres Strait Islander, being overweight, if your previous baby weighed more than 4.5kg, having a family history of diabetes or a previous pregnancy with Gestational Diabetes.
Gestational Diabetes occurs during pregnancy, due to the influence of hormones produced by the placenta. These hormones help the baby grow and also block the action of the mother’s insulin. The need for insulin is 2-3 times higher in pregnancy than normal so if the body is unable to produce this much insulin then Gestational Diabetes occurs. As the mother’s blood crosses the placenta to the baby it carries more glucose causing the baby to produce more insulin and grow bigger than it normally would. This can be a problem as the baby may be bigger and therefore the birth may be more complicated. The baby may also have problems after the birth as it continues to produce high levels of insulin but is no longer getting the glucose from its mother’s blood. This can cause the baby’s blood sugar level to drop. Controlling the mother’s blood sugar during pregnancy can reduce these complicating side effects. When the baby is born the diabetes usually disappears as insulin levels return to normal in the woman’s body.
Gestational Diabetes is diagnosed through a blood test. In Australia women may be offered the blood test routinely between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy or this may be offered only to women with risk factors. Sometimes when several risk factors are present the test is done early in the pregnancy. If the blood test shows you have Gestational Diabetes a team of health professionals, including doctors, midwives and diabetes educators are available to help you manage your Gestational Diabetes. Women with Gestational Diabetes are given advice about modifying their diet, doing regular exercise, monitoring their blood sugar levels and sometimes they may require some insulin injections if the blood glucose levels are too high. Modifying your diet is the most important part of treating Gestational Diabetes.
After the baby is born Gestational Diabetes generally disappears. Around six weeks after the birth of the baby women are given another OGTT to confirm that the glucose levels are back to normal. There is, however, an increased chance of women developing Type 2 diabetes later in life if they have had Gestational Diabetes. Women have a 30-50% chance of developing Type 2 diabetes within 15 years of the pregnancy. There is evidence that breastfeeding your baby actually reduces the chance of a woman developing diabetes later in life quite significantly. Another good reason to breastfeed! Other ways to reduce your chance of getting Type 2 diabetes later in life is to continue with the health eating, stay physically active, keep your weight in an ideal range and have regular blood tests.
Being diagnosed with Gestational Diabetes can be upsetting for women, as this is the last thing they expect to have to contend with. It can make women feel like their pregnancy has been made into an illness. Talk about how you feel to those caring for you and be reassured that this is usually something that you only have to contend with while pregnant. See it as a good opportunity to take your health in hand before diabetes manifests itself suddenly later in life. Knowing now may actually be the thing that prevents diabetes later.
For more information phone Diabetes Australia on 1300 136 588