Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that’s diagnosed for the first time during gestation, or pregnancy.
Like other forms of the disease, gestational diabetes affects how your cells use glucose, the sugar that provides energy for your body, increasing blood sugar to levels that can affect both you and your baby's health.
About 2%-5% of pregnant women develop gestational diabetes, and the numbers increase to 7%-9% for those more likely to have risk factors.
There’s good news, though. Pregnant women can help control their sugar levels by eating a healthy diet, exercising, and taking medication, if necessary.
But while your blood sugar generally returns to normal shortly after delivery, if you’ve had gestational diabetes, you’re in a higher risk category for getting Type 2 diabetes. What this means is you need to have your blood sugar checked more often.
A board-certified OB/GYN, Dr. Hany H. Ahmed provides comprehensive women’s health care at his office in Houston, Texas. He specializes in treating high-risk pregnancies, including women with gestational diabetes.
Dr. Ahmed can provide you with the targeted care you need for both yourself and your baby. He’d like you to be informed about this condition, so he’s put together this guide to help you understand what your body’s going through during this challenging time.
What are the risk factors for gestational diabetes?
A number of factors increase your risk of developing gestational diabetes. These include:
- Being overweight or obese
- Not exercising enough
- Having a previous case of gestational diabetes
- Having prediabetes
- Having polycystic ovary syndrome
- Having a family member with diabetes
- Previously delivering a baby over 9 pounds
Being from a nonwhite race is also a risk factor. Women who are Black, American Indian, Asian American, Pacific Islander, and Hispanic are more likely to develop gestational diabetes.
Doctors aren’t yet sure why some women develop gestational diabetes and others don’t, although being overweight seems to play a role.
It’s likely that hormones also play a large part since, normally, hormones work to keep your blood sugar levels in check. During pregnancy, though, your hormone levels change. That makes it harder for your body to process blood sugar efficiently, and your levels rise as a result.
What are some complications of gestational diabetes?
Two kinds of complications arise from having gestational diabetes, those that affect your baby, and those that affect you.
Complications for your baby
If you have gestational diabetes, your baby is at increased risk for:
- Early (preterm) birth
- Serious breathing difficulties
- Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
- Obesity and Type 2 diabetes
Your baby is also at risk of an excessive birth weight. Babies 9 pounds or more are more likely to become wedged in the birth canal, have birth injuries, or need a cesarean section delivery.
Complications for you
Gestational diabetes may increase your risk of high blood pressure, preeclampsia, needing a C-section delivery, and having diabetes (gestational or Type 2) in the future.
What are signs you may have gestational diabetes?
Many women with gestational diabetes have no symptoms, but the ones that may appear include:
- Sugar in urine
- Unusual thirst
- Frequent urination
- Blurred vision
You may also experience frequent skin, vaginal, and bladder infections when you have gestational diabetes.
How do I get tested?
Diabetes screening is part of your prenatal care, and Dr. Ahmed usually starts testing during your second trimester, between your 24th and 28th week of pregnancy.
The test is done at this time because the placenta produces large amounts of hormones that may cause you to become insulin resistant. If your results indicate elevated glucose levels, he does further testing to confirm a gestational diabetes diagnosis.
If you're at high risk — overweight or obese before pregnancy or have a family member with diabetes — he may test you early on, likely at your first prenatal visit. Interventions, as with Type 2 diabetes, include lifestyle changes and, possibly, medication.
Are you pregnant and experiencing signs of gestational diabetes, or are you concerned you might develop it due to family and other risk factors? Dr. Ahmed can help. Call the office or make your appointment online. It’s never too soon to ensure you and your baby remain safe.