Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on November 22, 2017, and has since been updated.
Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that shows up during pregnancy in a woman who did not have diabetes before pregnancy. It happens if your body’s not making enough insulin to offset the glucose from the food you eat.
Some women face more than one pregnancy affected by gestational diabetes. This type of diabetes typically will show up in the middle of pregnancy, so your doctor will probably test you for it when you’re between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy.
Why Does Gestational Diabetes Happen?
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.
Gestational diabetes will cause you to have high blood sugar, affecting your pregnancy and your baby’s health. If you’re worried about this pregnancy complication, there is good news!
You can help control gestational diabetes by exercising and eating healthy foods. Sometimes a woman with this type of diabetes will also be prescribed insulin. Controlling your blood sugar can help keep you and your baby healthy and prevent a difficult delivery!
How Can I Find Out if I Have Gestational Diabetes?
All pregnant women are tested for it because it shows up in about 6 to 9% of pregnancies. If you have the risk factors of gestational diabetes, you might be tested at the start of your pregnancy to get a baseline reading.
For everyone else, the first test happens around 24 to 28 weeks and is called the “glucose challenge test.” Your doctor will give you 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, a healthcare professional will draw your blood to see how your body dealt with that high glucose level.
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 this pregnancy complication.
What Happens if I 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 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 has type 2 diabetes
- Having had gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy
- You’ve delivered a baby who weighs more than nine pounds
- Have experienced an unexplained stillbirth
- Women who are African American, Hispanic, American Indian, or Asian
What Are the Symptoms?
Most women don’t notice any symptoms, which is the primary reason why everyone is tested. Here are some signs of gestational diabetes:
- Extreme thirst
- A constant need to pee
- Having regular bladder, vaginal, and skin infections
- Blurry vision
What Are the Risks to Myself and My Baby?
- Preterm birth
- Macrosomia (a very large baby)
- Increased need for a C-section.
- Low blood sugar, which may cause seizures
- High blood pressure
- Risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future
How’s Gestational Diabetes Treated?
If your doctor diagnoses you as having gestational diabetes, your healthcare provider will frequently monitor your 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.