Gestational Diabetes

Overview

What is gestational diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that starts during pregnancy. If you have diabetes, your body isn’t able to use the sugar (glucose) in your blood as well as it should. This causes the level of sugar in your blood to become higher than normal.

Gestational diabetes affects from 1% to 3% of all pregnant women. It usually develops in the second trimester (sometimes as early as the 20th week of pregnancy). Most often, gestational diabetes goes away after the baby is born.

How can gestational diabetes affect me and my baby?

High blood sugar levels can be unhealthy for both you and your baby. If the diabetes isn’t treated, your baby may be more likely to have problems at birth. For example, your baby may have a low blood sugar level, jaundice, or your baby may weigh much more than normal.

Gestational diabetes can also affect your health. For instance, if your baby is very large, you may have a more difficult delivery or you may need a cesarean section. Gestational diabetes also increases your risk of developing preeclampsia, which is a condition that can be serious if left untreated.

Diagnosis & Tests

What tests will I need to have during my pregnancy?

Your doctor will ask you to have regular blood tests to check your blood sugar level. These tests will let your doctor know if your diet and exercise are keeping your blood sugar level normal. A normal blood sugar level is less than 105 mg per dL when you haven’t eaten for a number of hours before the test (fasting) and less than 120 mg per dL 2 hours after a meal.

Treatment

What can I do if I have gestational diabetes?

You will need to follow a diet suggested by your doctor, exercise regularly and have frequent blood tests to check your blood sugar level. You may also need to take a medicine called insulin to control your blood sugar level.

You may be asked to see a specialist if you have to start taking insulin.

What changes should I make in my diet?

Your doctor may ask you to change some of the foods you eat and see a registered dietitian to help you plan your meals. It’s important to eat well-balanced meals. You may need to eat less at each meal, depending on how much weight you gain during your pregnancy. Your doctor or dietitian will talk to you about this.

Avoid eating foods that contain a lot of simple sugar, such as cake, cookies, candy or ice cream. Instead, eat foods that contain natural sugars, such as fruits.

If you get hungry between meals, eat foods that are healthy for you, such as raisins, carrot sticks or a piece of fruit. Whole-grain pasta, whole-grain breads and rice are also good for both you and your baby.

Why is exercise important?

Your doctor will suggest that you exercise regularly at a level that is safe for you and the baby. Exercise will help keep your blood sugar level normal, and it can also make you feel better. Walking is usually the easiest type of exercise when you are pregnant, but swimming or other exercises you enjoy are also beneficial. Ask your doctor to recommend some activities that would be safe for you.

If you’re not used to exercising, begin by exercising for 5 or 10 minutes every day. As you get stronger, you can increase your exercise time to 30 minutes or more per session. The longer you exercise and the more often you exercise, the more in control you will be of your blood sugar.

You do need to be careful about how you exercise. Don’t exercise too hard or get too hot while exercising. Ask your doctor what activities are safe for you. Depending on your age, your pulse shouldn’t go higher than 140 to 160 beats per minute during exercise. If you become dizzy or have back pain or other pain while exercising, stop exercising immediately and call your doctor. If you have uterine contractions (labor pains), vaginal bleeding or your water breaks, call your doctor right away.

What happens after my baby is born?

You may not need to have blood tests to check your blood sugar while you’re in the hospital after your baby is born. However, it may be several weeks after your baby’s birth before your gestational diabetes goes away. To make sure it has gone away, your doctor will ask you to have a special blood test 1 or 2 months after you have your baby.

Even if the gestational diabetes goes away after the baby’s birth, it increases your risk for diabetes in your next pregnancy and also later in life. It is important that you continue to exercise, watch your weight and eat a healthy diet after pregnancy. If you do these things, you may avoid diabetes when you’re older.

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

  • I’m pregnant. Am I at risk for gestational diabetes?
  • Is screening for gestational diabetes a standard part of my prenatal care?
  • What tests do I need?
  • Does gestational diabetes put my baby at risk for any health problems?
  • Can I control gestational diabetes through lifestyle changes alone?
  • What changes should I make to my diet and exercise?
  • Will I need insulin? For how long?
  • What follow-up tests or care will I need after I deliver my baby?