“I was in tears when my doctor told me that I had gestational diabetes around 28 weeks of my first pregnancy. I went home with fear, guilt and anxiety. I was worried about my baby and concerned if I could have a natural birth. The worst case scenarios kept tormenting my mind,” says Vivian, who delivered her first child in 2016.
Vivian is not alone. Gestational diabetes, a type of diabetes that only occurs during pregnancy, affects 18 percent of women who are expecting. Usually diagnosed between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy, gestational diabetes causes blood sugar levels to rise up significantly.
What you need to know about gestational diabetes?
Our body becomes more resistant to insulin during pregnancy because more glucose is needed to nourish the baby. When our body needs the additional insulin to process excess glucose in the blood, our pancreas starts to produce more. It becomes an issue when our pancreas can’t keep up with the increased demand for insulin during pregnancy and blood sugar levels rise too high as our cells are not using the glucose. Hence, it results in gestational diabetes.
Mothers should not worry too much as gestational diabetes is not a permanent condition. The blood sugar level is most likely to return to normal once the mother has given birth. However, this does not mean that mothers should take it for granted. Having gestational diabetes does enhance the possibility of getting diabetes in the future.
How do you know if you are at risk?
Although the actual cause of gestational diabetes has yet to be found, it is important to know if you are at risk.
• You are overweight: Having a BMI of 30 and more is one of the most common risk factors for gestational diabetes. The extra weight affects insulin’s ability to keep blood sugar levels in check.
• You have high level of abdominal fat: Women with high level of tummy fat in the first trimester of pregnancy are more likely to be diagnosed with gestational diabetes.
• You are older: Age is a contributing factor. Women, who are pregnant after their 30s, have higher risk of getting gestational diabetes.
• You have a family history: If you have family history of diabetes, you may be more at risk of getting gestational diabetes.
• You have previous history: If you had gestational diabetes in your previous pregnancy, you are more like to have it again in subsequent pregnancy.
What are the symptoms?
Gestational diabetes may go undetected. Hence, it is important that mothers pay attention to the symptoms.
1) Unusual thirst.
2) Frequent urination in large amounts.
3) Constant fatigue.
4) Sugar in the urine.
Would gestational diabetes affect my baby?
Gestational diabetes has effects on baby. The high blood sugar is elevated during pregnancy and the excess sugar can be passed to the unborn through the womb. Mothers with gestational diabetes risk of having:
1) Macrosomia: A baby with macrosomia can experience difficulties during childbirth. Macrosomia is a term referred to ‘big baby’. It applies to baby who is born above 8 pounds. It may cause damage to the nerves and muscles in their shoulders during natural birth.
2) Hypoglycaemia: If an unborn baby is exposed to high blood sugar levels while in the womb, the baby will make extra insulin to manage the excess sugar. The surge in insulin can cause the baby’s glucose to drop significantly after birth. Low blood sugar is dangerous because the baby depends on glucose for energy at the time of birth. This condition is known as hypoglycaemia. The signs include seizures, sluggishness and breathing difficulty.
3) Jaundice: It is a condition caused by bilirubin, a pigment produced when red blood cells break down causing yellow discoloration of baby’s skin. This condition is more common in babies whose mothers have gestational diabetes. Babies with jaundice may be weak and have trouble in feeding.
Are there long term effects?
Gestational diabetes has long term effects in the baby.
➢ Type 2 diabetes: Type 2 diabetes is a common form of diabetes that is caused by insulin resistance. It prevents our body from using glucose properly. Having gestational diabetes may increase the chance of mother and baby developing type 2 diabetes.
➢ Obesity: There is a significant connection between gestational diabetes and childhood obesity. Based on observation, children of mothers who had diabetes during their pregnancy are at greater risk of being overweight.
➢ Learning disability: Gestational diabetes may trigger the body to rely on fat and muscle tissues as source of energy. This can result in breakdown products known as ‘ketones’. Studies have associated ‘ketone’ to lower IQ among babies. It is also suggested that it could have led to learning problems later in life.
Pregnancy is one of the most exciting phase for women and they should not let the fear of gestational diabetes troubles them. There is a lot can be done to protect from gestational diabetes. It is necessary to stay healthy during pregnancy. Mothers need to work with doctors and dieticians to develop a nutritious eating plan and safe exercise program.
Remember, a healthy mother delivers a healthy baby.
Leong Kim Weng is a writer who writes about parenthood's articles. He uses this platform to reach out to the young parents. Writing for www.parentsdojo.com has given him the opportunity to learn and share interesting perspectives with others.