Q. Several of my relatives have diabetes. Now that I'm expecting my first baby, what is gestational diabetes, and how can I prevent it?
A. from Mary Gootjes, MD
OB-GYN Associates of Holland
Gestational diabetes is diabetes that occurs during pregnancy. The condition occurs in about 5% of pregnancies in the United States*, and is most often seen in women who have a family history of diabetes, are overweight, or are of black, Hispanic, American Indian or Asian heritage.
Like other forms of diabetes, gestational diabetes impairs the way your body’s insulin processes blood glucose, causing you to have high levels of sugar in your blood. Undetected and uncontrolled, it can affect the health of both mother and baby. In expectant mothers, it may cause frequent urinary tract infections, a larger baby (making a cesarean section necessary), and increased risk of developing preeclampsia, a potentially life-threatening condition. Their babies may develop low blood sugar and other complications.
Fortunately, most of the conditions that may affect the baby are treatable and mothers usually see a return to normal blood sugar levels shortly after giving birth. However, women with gestational diabetes have a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life, and their children have a higher risk of diabetes and obesity.
What you can do
Your best defense against gestational diabetes is a healthy diet, regular exercise and routine prenatal visits with your obstetrician. Because most women don’t experience symptoms when they develop the condition, obstetricians routinely test for gestational diabetes around the 28th week of pregnancy. If your doctor determines that you have it, he or she will likely recommend frequent check-ups, regular monitoring of blood sugar levels, a healthy diet and exercise. With proper treatment, you can still enjoy a healthy pregnancy and give your baby a good start in life.
If you are concerned about gestational diabetes, talk to your obstetrician. To find a local obstetrician or primary care doctor, visit hollandhospital.org and click on Find a Physician.
* Source: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, www.nichd.nih.gov.