A term that you would frequently hear and be tested for during pregnancy is gestational diabetes. Translating to diabetes during pregnancy, the condition is characterized by high blood sugar levels in the body which can potentially cause risks to both the mother and her unborn child.
So What Exactly Is Gestational Diabetes?
During pregnancy, a woman would experience sudden surges of hormonal levels in her body. Attributed to the increase in the levels of estrogen and progesterone, these surges would cause a significant increase in insulin resistance. However, if the body does not produce enough insulin to counter this resistance or the insulin cells fail to respond to the same, the excess sugar mixes with the blood stream to cause sudden spikes in the blood sugar levels.
This in turn causes gestational diabetes and the condition is usually diagnosed after the first few weeks of pregnancy. The condition usually disappears on its own after child birth. However, in cases where the condition persists even after child birth, medications and treatments would be needed to stabilize the issue.
Common Causes for Gestational Diabetes
Although there may be a number of reasons for pregnant women to contract gestational diabetes, some of the more common causes include obesity, polycystic ovary syndrome, hereditary traits, or history of gestational diabetes (in the previous pregnancies) etc.
Symptoms of Gestational Diabetes that You Need To Look Out for
Gestational Diabetes is a condition that can put the health of the mother and the child at risk. And although the symptoms for the same may not be that relevant and can be easily mistaken for another ailment, they need to be checked by an obstetrician or physician to rule out the potential possibilities. Some of the more common symptoms of gestational diabetes in pregnant women would include:
Increased blood sugar levels in the body would cause frequent urination with the quantity of urine passed being significantly higher than in normal circumstances.
Frequent urination would leave the body dehydrated and thirsty. And so a constant thirst would also be considered as a potential sign of the condition.
Elevated blood sugar levels would cause body fatigue and exhaustion in most cases.
Complications Arising From Gestational Diabetes
Risks to the Mother
Gestational Diabetes can cause a series of harmful side effects to the mother in case it is not controlled. Some of the complications arising from the condition in this case include high blood pressure (pre-eclampsia), premature labor, high levels of amniotic fluid in the womb, frequent fits, birth complications and increased risk of Type II diabetes at a later stage.
Risks to the Child
Gestational Diabetes can affect the child growing in the womb as well. Some of the more serious complications in this case include birth complications, premature birth, abnormal growth, shoulder dystocia (the head comes through but the shoulder and arms get stuck inside the mother’s body during delivery), nerve damage, weak bones, hypoglycaemia, jaundice, respiratory distress syndrome (immature lungs that cannot inhale and exhale properly), high blood pressure and increased risk of infections and conditions like obesity, diabetes etc. at a later stage.
Treating Gestational Diabetes
Women with gestational diabetes would require more visits to the doctor during pregnancy in order to maintain a close watch on their blood sugar levels. All the treatments for the condition would aim at stabilizing the blood sugar levels in time for the delivery.
Diet and Exercise Changes
One of the most natural and effective ways to treat and prevent gestational diabetes would be to opt for healthy, nutritious diets and regular exercises. Accordingly, it is considered wise to include foods that contain carbohydrates in the right quantities to provide the body with the requisite amount of energy it needs to function without elevating the blood sugar levels. Some good examples would be potatoes, beans, lentils, oats, paste, brown rice, whole grains, wheat bread etc.
Foods like fish (tuna, trout, salmon, herring and sardines etc.) and lean meat (chicken, turkey etc.) that contain plenty of proteins can also be considered as good, healthy choices for women with gestational diabetes. Fruits and vegetables would also help treat gestational diabetes in pregnant women. Avoiding foods that contain high levels of sugar, salt and fat can be considered wise for women with gestational diabetes.
It is recommended that a pregnant woman exercise for about 30 minutes every day to remain healthy and fit throughout the pregnancy. Regular workouts help improve blood circulation throughout the body in addition to regulating the blood sugar levels, thereby preventing conditions like gestational diabetes.
Avoid high intensity workouts. Rather, opt for simple exercises like walking, swimming etc. that would not leave you breathless. Make sure you give plenty of time outs in between to give your body adequate rest before every workout session.
In addition to getting your blood sugar levels tested at the clinic during every antenatal visit, you would be required to test the same at home as well. Home testing kits are available for the purpose and you would need to get a test done almost every day if you have been diagnosed with gestational diabetes. This could alert you in case of sudden spikes in the blood sugar levels and you could take appropriate measures to control the same beforehand.
Medications for Gestational Diabetes
In cases where the condition fails to respond to diet and exercises changes, the mother in question would be put on medications to control the blood sugar levels. Medications like metformin (oral tablets) are very effective in regulating the blood sugar levels in the body.
In cases where even the tablets won’t suffice, the mother would be asked to taken insulin injections to reduce her blood sugar levels. In addition to getting these injections at the clinic, she would be taught to administer them herself at home in order to take care of unexpected emergencies.
Side Effects Encountered with Medications
In certain cases, it is possible for a mother’s blood sugar levels to drop below normal after taking medications for gestational diabetes. This usually occurs if the person takes too much medication at the same time or misses a meal after taking the medication. This condition called hypoglycaemia can cause symptoms like hunger, profuse sweating, sudden chills, pale skin or in certain cases unconsciousness. It is considered wise to keep some sugary foods or drinks, or an emergency glucagon injection handy to tackle such situations.
After Child Birth
As soon as your baby is born, his/her blood sugar levels would be monitored over a couple of days to rule out any complications arising from gestational diabetes. Mothers would be asked to breastfeed their newborns within half an hour of childbirth to regulate the baby’s blood sugar levels. The mother would also be asked to breastfeed her baby once every 2-3 hours afterwards.
Follow Up Tests
If you were diagnosed with gestational diabetes during pregnancy, then you would most likely need to undergo a few follow up tests until a few months after the pregnancy to keep your blood sugar levels in check. These follw up tests would also indicate whether you would contract Type II diabetes in the near future. Any complications can be taken care of by dietary, exercise and lifestyle changes, medications or injections.
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