Gestational diabetes is a temporary form of diabetes that can happen during pregnancy. It affects between 3% and 20% of pregnant women. In most cases, gestational diabetes ends when the baby is born. Most women in Canada are screened for gestational diabetes within the first 28 weeks of pregnancy.
Risk factors for gestational diabetes
- Being 35 years of age or older
- A parent or sibling with type 2 diabetes
- Gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy
- Previous delivery of a baby that weighed more than 4 kilograms (9 pounds)
- Coming from a high-risk diabetes population (South Asian, Hispanic, Aboriginal, Asian or African)
- Using corticosteroid medication
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- Acanthosis nigricans (dark patches of skin on the neck, armpits, groin, navel or forehead)
Women who have had gestational diabetes are also at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future. Up to 30% will develop the disease within 15 years, and others will be diagnosed with prediabetes.
Careful management can keep gestational diabetes under control and lead to the birth of a healthy baby. If it is not carefully managed, the baby can grow very large making delivery more complicated. It can also result in early labour, and cause the baby to have breathing problems or low blood sugar.
Insulin may be needed
Usually, insulin is prescribed for women who have gestational diabetes since it helps to control the glucose levels in the blood. It is hard for your body to produce enough insulin on its own during pregnancy so insulin injections are usually required.
Checking blood glucose levels
It is important to know the levels of your blood glucose to make sure that they are at the target levels. Higher blood glucose levels can be harmful to the baby and to the pregnant mother. This is done by a finger prick blood sample using a blood glucose meter at home. Your healthcare team will also check your levels, so it is important to make sure you keep regular appointments.
The importance of healthy eating
Preparing and eating healthy meals is important in helping to control your blood glucose levels. A variety of healthy foods are needed for a balanced diet. This includes lots of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and healthy fats, and a moderate amount of whole grains such as bread, rice, pasta and cereal. It is a good idea to meet with a registered dietitian who can help you with a meal plan. Learn more about healthy eating here.
Don’t stop exercising
Getting regular exercise not only helps with weight control, it also helps regulate insulin levels. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week. If you haven’t exercised at all or on a regular basis, check with your doctor before starting a new exercise program.