A woman’s body is a marvel in that it can give birth after sustaining a new life for 9 long months. For a happy pregnancy, it is important to notice the changes that take place both within and outside of her. Especially when her body is undergoing hormonal changes, it is paramount to take care of the well being of both the child and herself. Gestational Diabetes mellitus (GDM) is one such thing, the mother must be aware of if she is to have a happy pregnancy and a healthy child thereafter.

What is Gestational Diabetes?

The name is synonymous with the diabetic condition during the gestational period. It is characterized by the abnormal rise and sustained high blood sugar level at later stages of pregnancy. It is a condition that obstetricians and gynecologists are wary about because there are no visible signs or symptoms that the woman is having the medical condition during the third trimester, except enhanced thirst or increased frequency of urination in a few cases.

A diabetic condition during pregnancy heightens the concern for the health of both the mother as well as the child. It raises the risk of pre-term birth and the possibility of miscarriage or perinatal death. The prolonged gestational diabetic condition can lead to the child being larger than the normal. Hence, complications may arise during delivery leading to a possible C-section delivery. The child stands a risk of being born with birth defects by way of fetal injury. Such children, borne out of gestational diabetics, often develop low blood glucose levels (hypoglycemia) soon after birth and are at high risk of jaundice and respiratory distress syndrome. Both the mother and the child are at a risk of having Type-2 diabetes mellitus in later life. The gestational diabetic condition in the mother can lead to preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy and appearance of protein in the urine) and high blood pressure, putting the pregnancy at great risk.

Why does Gestational Diabetes happen?

From the time, the fetus implants in the uterine wall of the mother, her body undergoes hormonal changes, with the sole intention of nurturing and helping the baby grow. Human Placental Lactogen (HPL), secreted from the placenta, modifies how the carbohydrates and lipids get metabolized in the mother’s body, making her body less sensitive to insulin. Consequently, the blood sugar levels rise. The increased blood sugar level is hormonally favored for making available more nutrients for the growing fetus. Over the gestational period, the high blood sugar levels increase the woman’s need for insulin by 200 to 300 percent than the normal. Due to this insulin insensitivity that has developed in her, the blood glucose level shoots up after eating food. Although it is normal for an increase in blood glucose levels during pregnancy, elevated levels of hormones result in an abnormal increase of glucose levels in the blood.

What puts you at risk of gestational diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is seen in almost every 1 in 10 American women. Medical researchers haven’t been able to answer why some women develop gestational diabetes and others, not. They have however identified factors that ups the risk of a woman planning for pregnancy.

  • The age of conception greater than 25 years
  • Obesity and sedentary lifestyle
  • Family history of diabetes (type 1 or type 2)
  • Instance of gestational diabetes during previous childbirth
  • Prevalence of diabetes before pregnancy
  • Poor nutrition and diet during pregnancy
  • Pregnancy-induced hypertension
  • In general, women of Asian, Hispanic, Native American, African American, and Indigenous Australian descent are more likely to get gestational diabetes.
How to diagnose gestational diabetes?

A routine blood sugar checkup for evaluating the risk for gestation diabetes is conducted by medical practitioners during 24th to 28th week of pregnancy. They do a holistic review of all the above-cited risk factors while prescribing the test.

The Glucose Tolerance Test (GTT) is initially conducted. The base blood sugar level is evaluated before giving the expecting mother a concentrated sugar solution and evaluating the blood glucose after one hour. If the blood glucose levels are very high after one hour, the Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT) is conducted.

In the Oral Glucose Tolerance Test, the blood glucose level is noted before the sugar syrup is intaken. The sugar level is again analyzed after every hour for three hours. The conceiving mother is asked to be vigilant of possible gestational diabetes if her blood sugar level is greater than 140 mg/dL after three hours. The woman has to take great care in controlling her blood glucose level, throughout her pregnancy.

If the blood sugar level is greater than 130 mg/dL, the doctor most likely recommends for an additional test, where the mother is required to undergo fasting overnight before undergoing the oral glucose tolerance test to ascertain the risk for gestational diabetes.

These prolonged tests are arduous and straining for the mother, especially in the first trimester, when she is likely to have nausea and strong dislike towards concentrated sugar syrups or maybe even suffering from morning sickness. The multiple jabs for collecting blood samples is also tormenting for the tired mom-to-be. All these in spite of the fact that these tests have a sensitivity rate of 76%! This means that out of 100 women suffering from gestational diabetes, 24 of them may not be identified by these tests at all! This has cast aspersions on the test in many a mind on the validity of such a test result. It is necessary to emphasize that, such tests are the existing tools that come the closest to diagnosing the risk for gestational diabetes, at present! American College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and American Diabetes Association recommend the screening for gestational diabetes in all non-diabetic pregnant women.

How to minimize the risk of gestational diabetes?

A balanced diet containing carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats is essential during pregnancy. Regular, balanced and spaced out diet plan is critical in controlling the gestational diabetes risk to a great extent.  An evenly spaced out nutrition plan consisting of 3 meals and 3 snacks is recommended for controlling blood sugar levels. Drink plenty of water whenever there is a hint of thirst.

Fiber-rich sources of carbohydrates are capable of controlling blood sugar levels because fibers slow carbohydrate absorption into the blood. It is also important to include low glycemic-index foods in your diet plan. Low GI food raises the blood glucose levels gradually than high GI food. Brown rice, Whole cereals, Quinoa, Oatmeal, beans, and lentils are rich in fiber and low glycemic index foods.

Vegetables and fruits are to be included in the pregnancy diet plan. Do away with fruit juices, because it doesn’t replace the wholesomeness of fruit and vegetables.

Limit or avoid foods high in sugar, fat, and salt. This includes cookies, cakes, donuts, chocolates, ice creams, chips and deep-fried food items. Sugar-substitutes must be taken in moderation, and they cannot replace the importance of nutritious balanced food.

Along with the diet plan that has been discussed, physical activity by way of regular moderate exercises helps to control blood glucose level. Brisk walking after a meal is very much recommended. Yoga practice is reported to have remarkable beneficial effect in reducing stress. Regular yoga practice lowers stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. Certain yoga postures are beneficial to control blood glucose levels if done properly under the guidance of yoga teachers.

Gestational Diabetes can be tackled

Pregnancy is a priceless experience. The relationship between the unborn child and the mother begins during those initial days. Although hormonal changes play havoc with the woman’s biological stability, she derives solace in the fact that she is nurturing a precious life within. Gestational diabetes has devastated many lives earlier, but the knowledge and tests that are at disposal now make a woman aware and careful during treading through the pregnancy days. A well-balanced diet plan and physical activity have helped many women to survive and win over the menace of gestational diabetes. Women are more prepared and empowered to tackle risks to themselves as well as their unborn children.

Maternity is a fact. Gestational diabetes is only a possibility. Instead of allowing the condition to overwhelm a mother with anxiety and depression, a woman should look at her pregnancy period as a string of little events, which she must enjoy as well as endure. Who doesn’t like to be informed and enabled, when she is experiencing pregnancy for the first time? Gestational diabetes test is just that information about what your body may face in coming months. So, the next time you visit your doctor for the test, feel more empowered in taking control of your own body and your growing child!

Siddharth Banerjee Siddharth is a freelance writer who offers copywriting, blogging and ghostwriting services. He is also an academician, an avid traveler and believes in living life every moment. He does yoga regularly and is currently in Ethiopia doing things he loves to do- teaching, traveling and socializing. Yoga is his passion and loves to spend time with his kids. He has started his own freelancing writer website and is also available on Twitter and Facebook.