Protect Your Unborn Child by Being Proactive About Gestational DiabetesPregnancy
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
Kate Middleton is already a mother of three. But because she is the Duchess of Cambridge, everyone wants to know if Prince William and her plan on expanding their royal family.
“I think William would be a little worried,” reportedly said the 37-year-old future Queen of England, when recently asked if she would be having a fourth child.
Her response is not surprising because once a woman reaches the age of 35, she is considered of advanced maternal age and has a higher risk of pregnancy complications, including gestational diabetes.
What is gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes occurs in women who never had diabetes before but have high blood glucose during pregnancy. The exact cause of gestational diabetes is not known, but according to the American Diabetes Association, it may have to do with hormones during pregnancy.
The placenta, which is an organ that develops in the uterus during pregnancy, supports a growing baby. Hormones from the placenta help the baby develop.
“But these hormones also block the action of the mother's insulin in her body. This problem is called insulin resistance. Insulin resistance makes it hard for the mother's body to use insulin. She may need up to three times as much insulin. Gestational diabetes starts when your body is not able to make and use all the insulin it needs for pregnancy.”
Some women may be very shocked to discover that they have gestational diabetes. One overall healthy woman (who had no family history of diabetes) and got pregnant with her first baby after the age of 35, shared her experience of being surprised to learn she developed gestational diabetes.
“My only risk factor for gestational diabetes was my age, and I had no symptoms. So how could this be happening to me?”
And then another woman did not know she had gestational diabetes until after her son was born.
Having gestational diabetes and not being diagnosed or just having signs of gestational diabetes but not being diagnosed with the condition, could put expectant mothers at a greater risk of having a stillbirth, according to a recent study.
A stillbirth occurs when a baby dies in the womb after 20 weeks of pregnancy. (Being obese, having high blood pressure and having diabetes put women at a greater risk of experiencing a stillbirth).
Stillbirth affects about 1% of all pregnancies, and each year about 24,000 babies are stillborn in the United States, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The recent study, which was conducted by researchers from the University of Leeds and the University of Manchester, compared the symptoms and maternity care of 291 women who had stillbirths to 733 women of similar backgrounds who did not experience stillbirths. These women were pooled from 41 maternity units in England.
The study also suggested that women with high blood sugar, which was measured after a period of fasting, had on average twice the risk of stillbirth than the women who did not have high blood sugar.
An even higher risk of having a stillbirth was associated with the women whose condition was not diagnosed.
The good news is that with the right screenings and diagnosis, that increased risk of stillbirth disappeared.
Most women do not have any signs of gestational diabetes. However, some signs may include the following:
- Feeling thirsty
- Feeling tired
- Having a dry mouth
But all three of these symptoms are common symptoms of pregnancy in general, so this could be one of the reasons why gestational diabetes often flies under the radar.
Even a successful birth with gestational diabetes may still present risks to your baby.
Reportedly, with gestational diabetes, your pancreas works extra hard to produce insulin. However, the insulin does not lower your blood glucose levels. Insulin does not cross the placenta but glucose and other nutrients do. So the extra blood glucose goes through the placenta, giving the baby high blood glucose levels, according to the American Diabetes Association.
“This causes the baby's pancreas to make extra insulin to get rid of the blood glucose. Since the baby is getting more energy than it needs to grow and develop, the extra energy is stored as fat. This can lead to macrosomia, or a ‘fat’ baby. Babies with macrosomia face health problems of their own, including damage to their shoulders during birth.”
How can expectant mothers be proactive?
A key missing aspect of preventing the detrimental effects of gestational diabetes is early detection and diagnosis. This is why it is absolutely imperative to get a blood screening for gestational diabetes. Doctors usually test for it between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy.
So it is really up to a woman to be proactive before she gets pregnant as well as when she is earlier in the pregnancy. You can also check your blood glucose levels at home. If you already have diabetes before you get pregnant, you can still have a healthy pregnancy and baby, but you need to discuss your condition with a competent healthcare professional and come up with a proactive plan to manage it in the best way possible.
If you discover you do have gestational diabetes, do not panic.
“The first step in treating gestational diabetes is to modify your diet to help keep your blood sugar level in the normal range, while still eating a healthy diet. Most women with well-controlled blood sugar deliver healthy babies without any complications,” reports the University of California San Francisco (UCSF health).
You can help normalize blood sugar levels by watching your consumption of carbohydrates, especially nutrient-void carbs found in junk foods like white bread and pasta, cakes, crackers and donuts.
Include nutrient-dense foods, such as plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, in your diet in order to get vitamins and minerals, such as magnesium, that may aid in lowering blood sugar levels and helping maintain a healthy pregnancy.
It is also highly recommended to stay away from artificial sweeteners and diet sodas, as we have previously discussed.
Exercise is another great way to manage high blood sugar levels and keep your gestational diabetes in control, but speak with your obstetrician first on what exercises are best for you and how to properly fuel your body.
It is also a good idea to take routine nutrient tests, so that you are in a position to eliminate any nutritional deficiencies or imbalances if you have them.
Finally, gestational diabetes usually goes away soon after delivery. However, you should still get tested for diabetes 6 to 12 weeks after your baby is born and then every 1 to 3 years (the CDC recommends).
Have you had gestational diabetes? How did you manage it? Feel free to share your experience with us.
Enjoy your healthy life!
The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.