In Australia, 5-10% of women experience a type of diabetes most people will be unfamiliar with, known as gestational diabetes mellitus (commonly referred to as GD or GDM). Being diagnosed with this condition might feel overwhelming at first, particularly if this diagnosis has fallen into the “unexpected” category of “what to expect when expecting”. It can be difficult enough as is to navigate your way through pregnancy myths and facts and this is particularly true when it comes to GD. What is gestational diabetes? How does it affect my baby? And even more crucial questions, like “can I still eat chocolate??!”
Here’s what you need to know.
What is Gestational Diabetes?
GD is a temporary condition that develops only during pregnancy, and usually disappears 4-6 weeks post-partum. It essentially refers to an elevated blood glucose (“blood sugar”) levels, caused by pregnancy hormones which block the action of insulin. This is known as Insulin Resistance and basically means that your body is unable to properly absorb glucose. Yup, gotta love those pregnancy hormones.
While you can be diagnosed even if you are healthy and abiding by all the pregnancy “do’s and don’ts”, there are a number of risk factors that are associated with developing GD. You may be at a higher risk of becoming diabetic during pregnancy if you:
- Are over 25 years of age
- Have a family history type 2 or gestational diabetes
- Are overweight or obese
- Are of a particular ethnicity (Aboriginal or Torres Straight Islander, Indian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Middle Eastern, Polynesian or Melanesian background)
- Have had GD during previous pregnancies
- Have previously had Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
- Have previously given birth to a large baby
GD is commonly diagnosed during the second or third trimester by a special blood test, known as oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT). If you are already pregnant, or have been before, you may be familiar with the OGTT usually performed week 24-28 of pregnancy and the delicious drink (aka cup of gloop) you need to consume before blood glucose responses are measured.
How does gestational diabetes affect my baby and myself?
GD is actually a pretty common pregnancy complication experienced by many women and can contribute to adverse pregnancy outcomes. This includes a pre-term birth, large birth weight, cesarean section, hypertension and a longer hospital stay compared to mothers without diabetes in pregnancy. Gestational diabetes also has implications for the long-term well being of both mum and bub with an increased risk of the infant being classified as overweight/obese during childhood and youth. Both mum and bub also carry a higher risk of progressing to type 2 diabetes later in life.
What do I do if I was diagnosed with GD?
It is important to know that if you are diagnosed with GD you can still go on to have a healthy pregnancy and the condition will likely go away after you give birth – but you will need to make some changes!!
There are three basic components involved in the effective management of gestational diabetes:
- A healthy eating plan, which ensures nutritional requirements of pregnancy are met, while also preventing fluctuations in blood glucose levels by eating regular meals with a balanced amount of good quality carbohydrates throughout the day
- Regular physical activity (such as walking) to help your body’s insulin work better, as well as to help manage blood glucose levels
- Frequent monitoring of blood glucose levels to ensure they stay within a target range for a healthy pregnancy. Blood glucose monitoring can help you understand the link between blood glucose, food, exercise and insulin.
Due to the importance of maintaining tight control of blood glucose levels for the health of both mum and baby, insulin injections may also be required to achieve this control, if modifying diet habits alone is insufficient.
If you have recently been diagnosed with gestational diabetes it is strongly recommended you speak with your doctor as well as an accredited practicing dietitian and diabetes educator to help manage your condition and provide the best outcome for you and your little bub.
This article was kindly written by Rebecca Lancaster – A student dietitian at The University of Sydney.