Gestational Diabetes - The Basics

With pregnancy comes a whole whirlwind of hormones. Such a change to a woman’s normal hormone levels can cause diabetes to develop during her pregnancy. Diabetes is caused when there is too much glucose (sugar) in your blood. Why is there an increase in glucose? Your body cannot produce the right amount of insulin, which converts glucose to energy, as it is also being flooded by pregnancy hormones such as oestrogen and progestogen. Gestational diabetes usually occurs after the 20 week mark, and affects 12% of women.

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Who is at risk?

The HSE advise that those most at risk to gestational diabetes are those that:

  • Have a family history of diabetes

  • Have a BMI that is over 25

  • Have previously had a baby that was macrosomic (weighed over 4.5KG at birth)

  • Are from diabetes prevalent countries such as India, Pakistan or Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, Lebanon or Egypt.

Other sources advise you may also be at risk if there is:

  • Previous unexplained perinatal death

  • Current glycosuria

  • Women on long term steroids

  • Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

Diagnoses

You will be checked for risk of gestational diabetes at your check up. This usually takes place between 8-12 weeks. You will be asked about your family history with diabetes.

Testing for gestational diabetes takes place in two ways. The first involves a random glucose blood sample or two being drawn and tested. The second is called an oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT). The OGTT is done by taking a blood sample. You will then be asked to take a glucose drink. Your blood will then be drawn at intervals in order to gain insights into how your body is reacting to the glucose.

Is Baby at risk?

Gestational diabetes doesn’t cause any birth defects as these usually occur in the first trimester. Some of the following may be caused as a side effect of gestational diabetes:

  • Macrosomia - extra glucose and nourishment in your blood can cause your baby to grow bigger.

  • Jaundice - causes a yellow tinge to your baby’s skin but once treated isn’t harmful.

  • Hypoglycemia -  your baby’s blood sugar may be low after birth, again this is treatable.

Although gestational diabetes does not mean your baby will have diabetes they are at risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes later on in life. Maintaining a healthy diet and weight throughout their life can prevent this.

Management

If you are worried about gestational diabetes it is best to seek professional medical advice, however here are some tips on managing gestational diabetes through diet:

Carbs

Carbohydrates is the food group responsible for turning food into energy, i.e glucose. It is recommended that you ensure to include healthy carbohydrates in your diet. Carbs with a low glycaemic index such as low wholemeal pasta, brown rice, oats and sweet potatoes

Get Lean

Lean meats are best to consume during pregnancy, especially if you are concerned about gestational diabetes. White fish is a great source of lean meat. There are also leaner options available when shopping for meat so always double check or ask your butcher for a lean option.

Get Your 5 A Day

Yep, that old mantra from your school days rings true for gestational diabetes. Fruit and vegetables are a natural source of sugar which converts to glucose. Try and eat 5 unripe, small portions a day, and space them out evenly throughout. Avoid fruit juices.

Take Your Vitamins

It is advised that women hoping to conceive take folic acid 12 weeks before and after conception. 10 micrograms of Vitamin D is also recommended throughout the length of your pregnancy.

Exercise

Moderate exercise is recommended as a way to manage gestational diabetes. You shouldn’t go all out and join a gym or anything, a short 10 minute stroll a day will suffice!