Diabetes can be a serious condition for anyone who is diagnosed with it. Without daily management, it can take a toll on everything from your vision to your heart and vascular health. But the risks are especially high for women who are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, a type of diabetes that is diagnosed during pregnancy as a result of hormones that lead to insulin resistance.
That’s because not only does a gestational diabetes diagnosis affect mom—it affects baby, too.
“Babies who are born to mothers with gestational diabetes have an increased risk for abnormal organ development, a heavier birth weight, and preterm birth, but the health risks extend to later in life, as well. These children can be at risk for health problems like low blood sugar, respiratory disease, obesity and metabolic problems, including Type 2 diabetes,” explains Peter Dahl, MD, endocrinologist with Main Line HealthCare Endocrinology at Riddle Hospital.
Depending on risk factors, up to eight percent of women will be diagnosed with gestational diabetes during their pregnancy. Although some might consider that to be a small number, it’s one that has continued to grow.
And that growing number is cause for concern. The risks of gestational diabetes for women can be serious—those who are diagnosed are at an increased risk for high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia, as well as Type 2 diabetes later in life.
Causes of gestational diabetes
Currently, physicians and researchers still haven’t determined what exactly causes gestational diabetes.
“During pregnancy, the placenta makes hormones that ensure that the fetus has the needed supply of nutrients. In gestational diabetes, these hormones cause a resistance to the insulin a mother makes, resulting in higher blood glucose and gestational diabetes,” explains Dr. Dahl.
While any women can develop gestational diabetes, certain groups are more at risk than others, including women who have later-in-life pregnancies, those with a personal or family risk of diabetes, those with a body mass index of 30 or higher, or those who are African American, Asian, Hispanic or Native American.
“If one or more of these factors applies to you, you should talk to your OB/GYN or endocrinologist about your gestational diabetes risk before pregnancy, and how you can prevent it,” says Dr. Dahl.
Preventing gestational diabetes
When it comes to prevention, there are a few things you can do to take charge of your health. The healthier you can start off your pregnancy, the better, says Dr. Dahl. That means staying active, maintaining a healthy that’s rich in high-fiber and low-fat, low-calorie foods, and shedding any excess weight before becoming pregnant.
It’s also crucial to talk to your OB/GYN about your medical history. It’s especially important to mention a history of diabetes or birth complications in your personal history or among members of your family.
“Any woman who is planning to become pregnant in the near future should understand the condition, its causes and effects, and its risk for both mother and baby,” says Dr. Dahl. “Talk to your OB/GYN to make sure you’re in good health before you conceive.”
Main Line Health’s team of obstetricians offer complete, family-centered care for women with normal and high-risk pregnancies, which includes monitoring and testing during pregnancy. Visit our website to learn more about our OB/GYN services and find a physician in your area to help you navigate your pregnancy and diabetes safely.