Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that shows up during pregnancy. It happens if your body’s not making enough insulin to offset the glucose from the food you eat.
Typically, your pancreas does a good job of balancing glucose by making insulin. When you’re pregnant, your placenta creates more hormones that might make your body resist insulin. The pancreas produces more insulin, but gestational diabetes happens when it can’t keep up.
All pregnant women are tested for gestational diabetes because it shows up in about 9% of pregnancies. If you have the risk factors, you might be tested at the start of your pregnancy to get a baseline reading. (See below for the risk factors).
For everyone else, the first test happens around 24-28 weeks and is called the “glucose challenge test.” You’re given a syrupy sweet glucose drink that you need to drink within a specific amount of time. It’s a strange-tasting drink: like flat Sunkist soda, infused with candy corn. After waiting an hour, your blood will be drawn to see how your body dealt with that high level of glucose.
Within a couple of days, you’ll find out if you passed or failed. If you failed, it just means you have a higher risk of gestational diabetes. The one-hour test you took doesn’t diagnose gestational diabetes.
What happens if you fail the one-hour test?
It means you need to take Glucose Tolerance Test, so you’ll fast beforehand and drink twice as much of that fun, flat orange soda. You’ll have your blood drawn before you pre-drink, and then again every hour for three hours. It’s important that you avoid eating or drinking anything during that time. If you fail this three-hour test, then you’ll be diagnosed with gestational diabetes.
What are the risk factors?
- Over 25 years old
- BMI over 30
- A close family member who has type 2 diabetes
- Having had gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy
- Delivered a baby weighing more than 9 pounds
- Had an unexplained stillbirth
- Women who are black, Hispanic, American Indian, or Asian
What are the symptoms?
Most women don’t notice any symptoms, which is a major reason why everyone is tested. Here are some signs of gestational diabetes:
- Extreme thirst
- Constant need to pee
- Regular bladder, vaginal, and skin infections
- Blurry vision
What are the risks to me and my baby?
- Preterm birth
- Macrosomia (very large baby)
- Increased need for a c-section.
- Low blood sugar, which comes with a risk of seizures
- Later risk of type 2 diabetes
- High blood pressure
- Risk of developing diabetes in the future
How’s gestational diabetes treated?
If you’re diagnosed as having gestational diabetes, they will frequently monitor blood sugar. Your doctor will give you recommendations for diet and exercise and may prescribe supplemental insulin. You’ll probably have your blood sugar tested after you deliver, and then again at your six-week postpartum visit.