What is gestational diabetes?
When you’re pregnant, your placenta produces hormones that aid in your baby’s growth and development – but also stop the hormone insulin from working properly. This is known as insulin resistance. The bigger your baby gets, the more insulin your body needs to make to keep your blood glucose levels at normal levels. This is especially true in the later stages of pregnancy, where you need two to three times as much insulin as usual to keep your glucose levels steady. If your body is unable to keep up with your insulin needs, then you will likely develop gestational diabetes.
Am I at risk of gestational diabetes?
You have the greatest chance of developing gestational diabetes if you:
- Have a family history of type 2 or gestational diabetes
- Are over the age of 25
- Are overweight or obese
- Are from an Indigenous, Torres Strait Islander, Polynesia, Melanesia, Vietnamese, Chinese or Middle Eastern background
- Have previously given birth to a baby over 4.5kg
- Have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
- Have had gestational diabetes during a previous pregnancy
What are the symptoms?
Gestational diabetes doesn’t typically produce any specific symptoms.
How is gestational diabetes diagnosed?
It’s recommended that all pregnant women undergo an oral glucose tolerance test for gestational diabetes around 24-28 weeks into your pregnancy, and earlier if you fall into one of the high risk categories. If this shows that you have elevated blood glucose levels, then you will be diagnosed with gestational diabetes.
Why is it important to stay on top of gestational diabetes?
If gestational diabetes is not managed well, it may result in an overly large baby (with possible complications at delivery) or in extreme cases, miscarriage or stillbirth. In addition, women who have had gestational diabetes have a one in two chance of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. The good news? With a little planning and some simple tweaks to your lifestyle, you can ensure the health of you and your baby during pregnancy and beyond!
What can I do so that my baby and I are healthy?
Your blood glucose levels must be tightly controlled during pregnancy to reduce the risk of complications to yourself and your baby.
Maintaining a healthy, well-balanced diet and getting enough exercise are key to achieving steady blood glucose levels. It’s also important to regularly monitor your blood glucose levels using a blood glucose meter. Your GP or diabetes educator will be able to help you learn to perform fingerprick tests and explain the blood glucose targets you need to aim for.
If diet and exercise alone aren’t helping you keep your blood glucose levels in the normal range, you may need to start using insulin. Rest assured that insulin is safe to use during pregnancy, and will not cause any harm to your baby. In fact, by helping to reduce your blood glucose levels, insulin will reduce the risks of your baby having any complications.
What happens after I give birth?
FOR MUMS: Usually, your blood glucose levels will return to normal quickly after giving birth. Your doctor will measure your blood glucose levels shortly after you give birth to check this – if they have returned to the normal range then you should be able to stop monitoring your blood glucose levels and taking insulin, if you needed it.
You will then undergo another oral glucose tolerance test six to eight weeks after giving birth to make sure that your diabetes is completely gone. It’s recommended that you get checked for gestational diabetes early in any future pregnancies, as having gestational diabetes in the past increases your chances of developing it in the future.
It’s also recommended that you get checked for type 2 diabetes at least every 2-3 years after giving birth. Maintaining a healthy weight, aiming to eat well-balanced meals most of the time, and getting regular exercise will all help to reduce your type 2 risk. Breastfeeding your baby also helps reduce your risk of developing type 2.
FOR BABIES: Your baby’s blood glucose levels will be measured shortly after you have given birth. This is to check that their blood glucose levels are in the healthy range. If they are low, they can be raised through extra feeds of breast milk or baby formula. Having a mother with gestational diabetes may increase a baby’s type 2 risk later in life, so it is also important that your child or children lead a healthy lifestyle in order to keep type 2 at bay.