What is gestational diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that affects some women during pregnancy (approximately 1 in 20 of all pregnancies). Usually, it's just a temporary condition that starts during pregnancy and then goes away after birth, although frequently, diabetes does return after pregnancy, usually later in life.

When you eat a meal, the sugar part of it is absorbed into your bloodstream and travels around your body to provide energy to all your cells. Your body produces a hormone, or chemical messenger, called insulin that works in the bloodstream to help move the sugar into the cells – it’s like a key that opens the cell door.

The hormones produced during pregnancy make it difficult for your body to produce or use insulin properly. So, sugar remains in the blood and the levels rise.

If your blood sugar levels were to rise too much, the baby’s own insulin/blood sugar balance could become abnormal and the baby could grow too large. Today’s advanced pregnancy care ensures that the development of your baby is very carefully monitored and should this happen, the baby will usually be delivered early, before birth complications can occur.


Diagnosing gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes is generally diagnosed in the second or third trimester, often after a routine blood test at about 24–28 weeks into pregnancy, but can be diagnosed earlier, in the first trimester. If you’ve had gestational diabetes in previous pregnancies, you are likely to have diagnostic tests earlier.

Some typical symptoms of diabetes are:

passing urine more often

increased thirst

extreme tiredness

However, in gestational diabetes these symptoms are less common – and they often occur during pregnancy anyway.

Early diagnosis and good management of gestational diabetes increases your chances of having a healthy pregnancy and baby. For most women, this condition doesn’t cause obvious symptoms initially, so it’s important to attend all your healthcare check-ups, in order to undergo the routine screening.


Gestational diabetes patient standing in a doorway

Treating gestational diabetes

If you have gestational diabetes, you will need to measure your blood sugar frequently to monitor your levels. In many cases, changes to your diet and physical activity levels can be enough to control your blood sugar, but if not, you may need to add medication to your health regimen.

Medications include insulin injections and in a very few cases, oral diabetes tablets. Your doctor or nurse will discuss and guide you through treatment options.


Managing gestational diabetes: what can I do?

Most women who have gestational diabetes give birth to healthy babies – controlling the condition is key to avoiding risks, so just do the best you can to understand how to monitor and control your blood sugar. Because you have not been used to managing diabetes before your pregnancy, you need to get the right information and support.

Make sure you:

understand gestational diabetes and how it is treated

ask for a blood glucose meter (glucometer) and agree your individual blood sugar targets

know the members of your healthcare team and what they do to help you

ask to see a dietitian to talk about your diet and physical activity

know who to call if you need extra support

understand how to treat a hypo and a hyper

Gestational diabetes patient (Rikke) measuring blood glucose by pricking finger

Your healthcare team will advise and support you throughout your pregnancy – do make sure you get to know them, talk with them and know how to contact them so that you receive the best care and guidance possible.


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