During pregnancy, you’ll undergo some routine tests to ensure that you and your baby are as healthy as possible. One of these tests is for gestational diabetes, a condition where you have high blood glucose (blood sugar) during pregnancy.
Gestational diabetes is a complication that affects about 9 percent of pregnancies. Being diagnosed with it might seem scary, but it’s important to know that you can still deliver a healthy baby. You may just need to adjust your diet and be monitored by your provider.
What is gestational diabetes?
Just as with other types of diabetes, during gestational diabetes your body has trouble making and using all of the insulin it needs.
When gestational diabetes goes unmanaged, your baby may:
- Be born too early
- Develop jaundice
- Grow too large, putting him or her at risk for injuries during birth
- Have breathing problems
- Be born with low blood sugar
- Become overweight or be at risk for Type 2 diabetes later in life
Having gestational diabetes during pregnancy can also put you at risk for preeclampsia, a serious condition that includes high blood pressure and high levels of protein in your urine.
Who's at risk for gestational diabetes?
Women who are overweight or obese are at higher risk for gestational diabetes. So are women with high blood pressure or a history of Type 2 diabetes or gestational diabetes.
Importantly, about half of women who have gestational diabetes don’t have any of these risk factors, which is why it’s important to visit your provider regularly and get tested.
Tips for preventing gestational diabetes
Eat a healthy diet including plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins, and limit foods that are high in fat, calories and sugar.
Stay active before and during pregnancy. This can help you to regulate your blood sugar, and it’ll also help you reduce back pain, lower stress and feel better.
Lose any extra weight before pregnancy. Importantly, healthcare providers don’t recommend losing weight during pregnancy — you’ve got to support your growing baby. But if you’re considering getting pregnant, it’s best to shed extra pounds first.
How gestational diabetes is diagnosed
During the gestational diabetes test, sometimes called a glucose screening test, you’ll drink a sugary solution and have your blood tested after an hour.
If your blood sugar level is higher than a certain level, you may need to take part in a follow-up test. Before this test, you’ll fast for at least eight hours. Then, you’ll have blood drawn and once again drink a sugary solution. After one, two and three hours, you will have your blood sugar checked. If your blood sugar level is too high during two of these tests, you’ll be diagnosed with gestational diabetes.
How to manage gestational diabetes
If you’re diagnosed with gestational diabetes, your provider will recommend a treatment plan to help manage your condition. A treatment plan might include:
- Eating a healthy diet — Your provider may refer you to a nutritionist who can help you make healthy food choices and eat the right amount of food at the right time — all factors that can help you manage your blood sugar level.
- Getting regular exercise — Physical activity can help you regulate your blood sugar level, maintain a healthy weight and feel good during your pregnancy. Your provider will recommend an exercise plan that’s appropriate for you.
- Testing your blood sugar levels regularly — Your provider may recommend a meter to test your blood sugar levels four to five times a day — typically when you wake up and after each meal.
If eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly don’t help you manage your gestational diabetes, your provider may recommend a medication to regulate your blood sugar levels.
Your blood sugar levels will likely return to normal after you deliver your baby, and you’ll be able to stop monitoring your blood sugar. Women who have gestational diabetes during pregnancy are at increased risk for Type 2 diabetes.