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When diabetes develops during pregnancy

Posted 3/7/2016 by UHBlog

When diabetes develops during pregnancy

Some women develop diabetes after they become pregnant. This condition is known as gestational diabetes. The good news is that it’s treatable. Both mother and baby can be healthy, often with lifestyle changes alone.

What is gestational diabetes?

Hormones that help your baby develop during pregnancy may prevent insulin from working normally in your body. Insulin helps move sugar, or glucose, from your blood into your cells. If you become resistant to insulin, your blood glucose level rises. “Women who are diagnosed with high blood sugar for the first time while pregnant have gestational diabetes,” says Stacey Ehrenberg, MD, a maternal fetal medicine specialist with UH MacDonald Women’s Hospital. “However, some women diagnosed with diabetes early in pregnancy may have had undiagnosed diabetes prior to pregnancy,” she adds.

Who is at risk?

According to Dr. Ehrenberg, the following factors increase your risk for developing gestational diabetes:

  • Being of African-American, Hispanic, American Indian or Pacific Islander descent
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Having a close relative with diabetes
  • Being older than age 25
  • Having prediabetes or glucose intolerance
  • Having had gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy
  • Having had a stillbirth or given birth to a large baby (heavier than 9 pounds)

If you have none of these risk factors, you are at low risk and your health care provider will test you for gestational diabetes when you are between 24 and 28 weeks pregnant. If you have one of the previously mentioned risk factors, your health care provider should test you for gestational diabetes as soon as you know you are pregnant.

Ensure a healthy pregnancy

Without treatment, gestational diabetes carries some serious risks. These include:

  • High blood pressure of pregnancy (gestational hypertension) and pre-eclampsia in the mother
  • The baby being so large that the mother must have a cesarean section instead of a vaginal delivery
  • Breathing problems, jaundice and blood glucose problems in the baby after birth
  • Death of the baby in the last one to two months of pregnancy

Getting treatment can help reduce these risks. “The key to keeping yourself and your baby healthy is to manage your blood glucose level,” says Dr. Ehrenberg. “Many women can do this simply by following a healthy meal plan, getting regular exercise, and checking and reporting their glucose levels to their care provider. Some women will need oral medication or insulin to keep their glucose levels in the target range. This is very important because blood glucose levels are directly related to complications from diabetes during pregnancy. The higher the blood glucose, the more likely a woman is to experience these complications. On the other hand, if a woman’s blood glucose is kept in the normal range, the risks to her and her baby are almost the same as a woman without diabetes.”

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