Nature’s body is a marvel in that it can give birth after sustaining and growing a new life. For a happy pregnancy, it is important to notice the changes that take place both within the body and outside it. This is especially true when the body is undergoing hormonal changes since it becomes paramount to take care of the well being of both the child and parent. Gestational Diabetes Mellitus (GDM) is one such thing the parent must be aware of if they are 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 generally no visible signs or symptoms that the parent is having the medical condition, apart from enhanced thirst or increased frequency of urination in a few cases, signs that are already synonymous with pregnancy.
A diabetic condition during pregnancy heightens the concern and risks for the health of both the parent as well as the child. It raises the risk of pre-term birth and can lead to the child being larger than the normal. Larger babies can lead to complications during delivery and a possible C-section. The infant also stands a risk of being born with birth defects by way of fetal injury. Infants born from 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 parent and the child are at a higher risk of having type-2 diabetes mellitus in later life. The gestational diabetic condition in the parent can also 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 parent, the 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 parent’s body, making the 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 parent’s need for insulin by 200 to 300 percent than the normal. Due to this insulin insensitivity that has developed in the body, 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 parents. Medical researchers haven’t been able to answer why some people develop gestational diabetes and others, not. They have however identified factors that ups the risk of a parent 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, people 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 gestational diabetes is conducted by medical practitioners during 24th to 28th week of pregnancy.
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 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 person has to take great care in controlling blood glucose levels throughout the rest of pregnancy.
These prolonged tests are arduous and strainful for the expectant parent, especially in the first trimester, when they are likely to have nausea, suffer from morning sickness and/or have a strong dislike towards concentrated sugar syrups. The multiple jabs for collecting blood samples can also disheartening for the mom-to-be. Yet, despite all of this a parent to be goes through, these tests have a sensitivity rate of just 76%! This means that out of 100 people suffering from gestational diabetes, 24 of them may not be identified by these tests at all! These statistics have cast doubts on the validity of such a test result. It is necessary to emphasize though, that such tests are the existing tools that come the closest to diagnosing the risk for gestational diabetes. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and The American Diabetes Association recommend the screening for gestational diabetes in all non-diabetic pregnant people.
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 grain 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. Although, one should do away with fruit juices, because the fiber is often lost and 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 parent begins during those initial days. Although hormonal changes can play havoc with the person’s biological stability, they can derive solace in the fact that they are nurturing a precious life within.
Parenthood is a fact. Gestational diabetes is only a possibility. Instead of allowing the condition to cause anxiety and depression, a person should look at their pregnancy as a string of little events, which can be enjoyed as well as endured. 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!