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Gestational Diabetes: What Pregnant Women Need to Know

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You’ll be examined, screened and tested frequently during pregnancy, and one of the reasons is to check for a disease that affects around 9 percent of all pregnant women—gestational diabetes.

During pregnancy, changing hormone levels drastically alter a woman’s metabolism. And under the right circumstances, this can cause temporary spikes in blood sugar levels for the duration of pregnancy—otherwise known as gestational diabetes.

The illness is treatable, but symptoms often go unnoticed until a woman is properly screened and diagnosed by a medical professional, according to Mon Health OBGYN Candi McCullough.

“It’s very common for a pregnant woman with gestational diabetes to not experience or notice any symptoms at all,” said Dr. McCullough. “Or, she may feel extremely thirsty, hungry and fatigued—all very common symptoms in most pregnancies, so she may not realize there’s an underlying issue at play.”

Left unmanaged, the disease can be harmful to both mom and baby, potentially increasing mom’s chances of emergency C-section and baby’s chances of having an abnormally high birth weight.

“We can help manage gestational diabetes, but it’s dangerous if left unchecked—so it’s important you see your OBGYN or midwife for frequent checkups so they can screen for these issues at each appointment,” said Dr. McCullough. “Lab results from urine samples as well as glucose screenings during the second trimester will let your doctor know if gestational diabetes is a concern.”

While there’s no surefire way to predict gestational diabetes, Dr. McCullough says there risk factors that may increase your chance of developing the illness.

Risk factors, according to the CDC, include:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Having a family history of diabetes
  • Having gestational diabetes in previous pregnancies
  • Being over the age of 35
  • Having a pre-diabetic diagnosis prior to becoming pregnant
  • Having to be on bed rest

Unfortunately, gestational diabetes isn’t always preventable. If your only risk factors are out of your control (having a family history or being over age 35, for example), there’s not much more you can do to prevent the condition.

But if you have manageable risk factors such as being overweight, studies show adopting new healthy habits may go a long way in lowering your risk for developing gestational diabetes.

Dr. McCullough says ways to lower your risk include:

  1. Eat a well-balanced diet. Your diet should consist of nutrient-dense foods including lean proteins, fiber-rich whole grains and complex carbohydrates, a variety of fruits and vegetables, and plenty of healthy fats. A well-balanced diet should include a variety of different foods, in addition to daily prenatal vitamins, to ensure both mom and baby are getting the nutrients they need during pregnancy, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
  2. Stay active. Dr. McCullough encourages patients to aim for a minimum of 30 minutes a day, five days a week of moderate exercise. Staying active is not only healthy for both mom and baby, but can also pave the way for an easier labor and birth. Always check with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine if you are pregnant.
  3. Maintain a healthy weight. Maintaining a healthy weight and body mass index (BMI) while pregnant, will help lower your risk of gestational diabetes, as well as a host of other pregnancy, labor and delivery complications. Talk to your doctor about weight gain goals during pregnancy, and visit Mon Health’s information on pregnancy weight gain to learn more.

Schedule an appointment with Dr. McCullough.