Gestational diabetes is a temporary form of diabetes mellitus, a disease where blood sugar levels rise higher than normal. Blood sugar is usually regulated by the hormone called insulin. However, in gestational diabetes, a woman’s body does not produce sufficient insulin to control blood sugar levels, and with high amounts of blood sugar can come short and long-term problems in both expectant mothers and their babies.
Unfortunately, cases of gestational diabetes are becoming more frequent, with approximately 2-5% of pregnant women developing it, which increases to 7-9% if there are additional risk factors. This increase is mainly due to the obesity epidemic in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that about half of all women with gestational diabetes continue to suffer from diabetes mellitus after their pregnancy.
The screening for gestational diabetes typically occurs between your 24th and 28th week of pregnancy. Leading up until that time, it is important that you take steps to help limit the risk of gestational diabetes and then given the results, address the disease properly if diagnosed. Here are some risk factors, prevention tips and ways to cope with gestational diabetes:
Gestational Diabetes Risk Factors
Some of the risk factors for gestational diabetes are identical to the risk factors for type 2 diabetes mellitus. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), these risk factors include being overweight or obese and having a physically inactive lifestyle. Additionally, ACOG warns that women who are members of racial minorities – including African-Americans, Hispanics, Asian-Americans, Native Americans, and Pacific Islanders – have an increased risk of developing gestational diabetes.
Further risk factors include having had gestational diabetes in a prior pregnancy, having delivered a baby over nine pounds in the past, a history of high blood pressure and/or heart disease, and having a history of polycystic ovarian disease. Of course, not every woman with these risk factors develops gestational diabetes, and women with no risk factors can still be affected by the disease.
Prevention of Gestational Diabetes
The best way to prevent gestational diabetes is to get your weight under control before you become pregnant through physical activity and a healthy diet. The CDC points out that you should not try to lose weight on your own after you become pregnant, and your diet and exercise during pregnancy should be under the direction of your OB-GYN.
Early detection of gestational diabetes is crucial so that you can receive effective treatment and lower the chance of complications for both you and your baby. You can help by establishing care with an OB-GYN as soon as you become pregnant and keeping all your appointments. Also, be upfront and honest with your obstetrician about all your health information, including your family history, personal medical history, and any symptoms you are experiencing. This frankness will allow your physician to make the best decisions for your care.
Coping with Gestational Diabetes
If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, you should know this is no cause for panic. Many women with gestational diabetes have completely uneventful pregnancies and give birth to healthy babies. Good lifestyle habits and following the advice of your OB-GYN are the keys to a positive outcome.
Your doctor will help you with planning your diet and regular exercise. Exercise helps to lower blood sugar, and a diet with limited carbohydrates is important in diabetics. The diet choices you make and your physical activity affect both you and your baby, and unwise decisions can have undesired consequences. Women with poorly-controlled gestational diabetes have a greater chance of having a preterm birth, a baby with an extremely high birth weight, preeclampsia, and the need for a cesarian delivery.
Some women with gestational diabetes may need to take medications to control their blood sugar and it’s important you follow the instructions precisely. Taking these medications improperly may cause your blood sugars to drop too low or become excessively high. You may also need to monitor your blood sugar between office visits if instructed by your doctor. Of course, contact your physician right away if you have any questions or problems.
About the Connecticut OBGYN Practice
Dr. John Garofalo, M.D., is an OBGYN located in Fairfield County, Connecticut, providing care for Norwalk, Darien, New Canaan, Weston, Rowaytan and the surrounding areas. He has more than 20 years of practice and surgical experience covering many facets of obstetrics and gynecology.
Laury Berkwitt, APRN, is a nurse practitioner specializing in women’s health in Fairfield County, Connecticut. Laury has a passion for providing quality women’s healthcare in a safe and comfortable manner by creating a trusting patient-practitioner relationship. She has been in practice for more than 10 years, caring for women of all ages.
For more information, go to www.garofaloobgyn.com. John Garofalo, M.D., and Laury Berkwitt, APRN, can be reached for personal consultations by calling 203.803.1098.