My friend had gestational diabetes, but I’ve never really thought about what she had to go through. Gestational diabetes is caused by a hormonal change that happens to every woman during pregnancy. Increased levels of certain hormones made in the placenta. This interferes with the body’s ability for insulin to manage sugar. When this happens, it’s called "insulin resistance." As the placenta grows during pregnancy, it steadily produces more hormones and this increases insulin resistance.

Typically, the mother's pancreas is able to produce more about three times as much insulin to compensate for this and overcome the insulin resistance. Sometimes though, the pancreas doesn’t make enough insulin to overcome the effect of the increased hormones during pregnancy. This causes sugar levels to rise which results in gestational diabetes.

Some women are more predisposed to develop gestational diabetes than others. If you are obese, have sugar in your urine, or have a family history of diabetes you may be more likely to develop gestational diabetes even if you never develop type 1 or type 2 diabetes at any time in your life. However, if you do develop gestational diabetes, you’re twice as like to develop type 2 later in life according to a recent study accepted for publication in the Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

The main question many women have when they are diagnosed with gestational diabetes is “how will this affect my pregnancy and my baby?” The truth is that many women with gestational diabetes go on to have perfectly healthy children with no complications. However, a poor diet or poorly controlled diabetes can lead to serious consequences for you and your child. If your blood sugar levels get too high, then too much glucose will end up in your baby's blood. This will make your baby's pancreas produce more insulin to process the extra glucose. All of this extra glucose and blood sugar may cause your baby to put on extra weight, especially in the upper body.

What this extra weight does is cause macrosomia, and this means that your baby may be too large to enter the birth canal and the shoulders may become stuck. When this happens, your doctor may have to use a special device to free your baby, or you may have to have a cesarean section. High glucose levels in your child’s blood will also make them more likely to be overweight during adolescence.

The best thing you can do if you’re diagnosed with gestational diabetes is to follow your doctor’s health and diet plan carefully and always monitor your blood sugar levels to prevent them from becoming too high. Again, many women have children without a single problem with gestational diabetes and if you’re careful and stay as healthy as possible, you and your baby will experience a problem-free birth.

Source: Endocrine Society (2013, March 7). Up to half of gestational diabetes patients will develop type 2 diabetes, study finds. ScienceDaily.

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