A diagnosis of gestational diabetes (GDM) might feel overwhelming at first, but it turns out this pregnancy complication is much more common than you might think — and the number of cases is growing. With careful monitoring and treatment, GDM can be managed and you can have a safe and healthy pregnancy.
GDM usually starts between week 24 and week 28 of pregnancy when the body does not produce enough insulin (the hormone that helps convert sugar into energy) to deal with the increased glucose, or sugar, that’s circulating in your blood to help your baby grow. Gestational diabetes affects one in 10 expectant women, and because it occurs more often among obese women, rates of GDM in the United States have been rising along with obesity rates.
To understand what causes gestational diabetes, it helps to first understand what’s happening to your body during pregnancy. In some women, hormones from the placenta block insulin from doing its job, resulting in high glucose levels. This causes high levels of sugar in the blood (hyperglycemia), which can damage the nerves, blood vessels, and organs in your body. Researchers aren't sure why some women get gestational diabetes while others don’t.
Research shows you’re at an increased risk for GDM if you:
- are overweight (having a BMI of 30 or more) going into pregnancy because the extra weight affects insulin's ability to properly keep blood sugar levels in check.
- are older. Doctors have noted that women over the age of 35 have a significantly higher risk of developing GDM.
- have a family history. If diabetes runs in the family, you may be more at risk of GDM. Women who are African-American, Hispanic, Asian, or Native American are also statistically more likely to receive a GDM diagnosis.
- received a pre-diabetes diagnosis. If your blood sugar levels are elevated slightly before pregnancy, you may be at higher risk of GDM.
With proper treatment and regular monitoring by your practitioner, gestational diabetes can be managed and you can have a healthy pregnancy. However if gestational diabetes is left untreated, you and your baby are at risk for potentially serious complications.
If you have any questions about diabetes and pregnancy, ask Dr. Strebel or Dr. Grolle at your next appointment. The can explain what you need to do to have a healthy pregnancy.