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What is gestational diabetes?

What is gestational diabetes?
One of the more common complications that can arise during pregnancy is gestational diabetes, which is a resistance to insulin or a glucose intolerance that can occur during pregnancy. Up to 17 percent of pregnant women experience gestational diabetes.
Gestational diabetes occurs when the body becomes resistant to insulin and blood sugars increase due to not being able to metabolize carbohydrates in same way as prior to being pregnancy.
It’s important to successfully manage gestational diabetes during pregnancy.
Some of the possible complications that can come with untreated gestational diabetes are: 

  • Babies with large birth weights
  • Physical difficulty delivering large babies
  • Higher rates of still birth
  • Jaundice in newborns
  • Babies may develop low blood sugars (hypoglycemia) after birth which can result in admission to newborn intensive care units
  • Babies with increased risk of breathing difficulties after birth

 It’s not always possible to prevent gestational diabetes especially if there is a genetic predisposition. Other risk factors can include obesity, ethnicity and women who are pregnant with twins or multiples. If you have gestational diabetes during your first pregnancy, there is an increased likelihood  it will occur in future pregnancies.
The good news is that gestational diabetes is treatable.
Many women can manage their diabetes through diet and exercise, and if needed, medication. 
Once the baby is delivered, many women are no longer considered diabetic as criteria for blood sugar control changes for non-pregnant women. Additionally when the placenta is removed, hormones such as human placental lactogen, which has anti-insulin properties, leave the body. This results in the body becoming more sensitive to insulin.
People who have gestational diabetes during pregnancy may have a higher rate of developing type 2 diabetes within five years. 
Once a woman has delivered her baby, we recommend they have a sugar test approximately six weeks post-delivery to be sure they haven’t developed type 2 diabetes and a blood screening every 1-3 years to monitor blood sugars.


About Michael Wolfe MD

Michael Wolfe, MD, is a maternal-fetal medicine specialist with Ascension Medical Group in Wichita, Kansas.