I was completely taken by surprise when I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes
with my third child. I had not had it with either of my other two, and I assumed that the glucose tolerance test that is done in your fifth or sixth month would be normal. I had heard of gestational diabetes, but I didn’t really know a lot about it until I had it. The good news is that it is usually temporary. In most women, it goes away within one to two months after giving birth.
How Is Gestational Diabetes Diagnosed?
Every pregnant woman undergoes a glucose tolerance test, usually in her fifth month of pregnancy, or about 24-28 weeks along. This is when you go to your doctor’s office, choke down a bottle of sickly sweet psuedo-soda pop, and then have a blood test an hour later. What this test is for is to see how well your body handles glucose, which is turned into insulin by your body. For some pregnant women, their bodies do not make enough insulin because of the hormones of pregnancy. It causes extra glucose to build up in the blood, making it hard for a woman’s body to regulate their insulin levels in a safe range. It can cause problems for both the baby and the mother.
When you show unacceptably elevated levels of glucose in your blood after the first blood test, your doctor will usually ask you to take a second glucose tolerance test, which takes around three hours. You must fast for eight hours, and then go to the office first thing in the morning. They take your blood, and then you drink some of the nasty soda pop again, and they take your blood in an hour. Then they wait and take it an hour later.
Then they do it again an hour later. If your blood glucose levels in your blood are high on at least two of these blood tests, you have gestational diabetes.
A lot of pregnant women, like me, don’t even know they have it because the usual symptoms of gestational diabetes, like an increase in hunger and thirst and an increased need to urinate are symptoms of pregnancy.
Treating Gestational Diabetes
Gestational diabetes is treatable. Your doctor will work closely with various other professionals to help you keep your blood sugar levels in check. Your doctor will probably have you meet with a diabetes counselor at your local hospital, and he or she will teach you about gestational diabetes, how to test your blood sugar, and plenty of other helpful information. You will probably also meet with a nutritionist or dietician, who will teach you how to eat to keep your blood sugar levels within an acceptable range. I thought that this would be difficult, but I soon found that eating as she directed was not that difficult. I had to check my blood sugar four times a day, once in the morning before eating, and an hour after each meal. I wrote it down, and my obstetrician looked at my numbers at every visit. I also had to go to see him more often, so that he could monitor my baby and me more closely. He also suggested that I get some moderate exercise each day. For me, this was walking on my treadmill, not running.
One thing I was surprised to find out is that my insurance did not pay for diabetes testing supplies for gestational diabetes. I had to buy them myself, and while they are not extremely expensive, it is my opinion that insurance companies should pay for this.
Most women can keep their gestational diabetes under control with dietary changes and a little bit of exercise. This was the case for me. For some women, however, as their pregnancy progresses, the continued increase of pregnancy hormones can make it so they have to have insulin shots, as well. These are safe for the baby.
A problem that you can experience with gestational diabetes is high blood pressure. I did have this problem, and ended up being induced two weeks early because my blood pressure was so high. After I had my baby, my blood pressure stayed high for several months, and I had to take some medication for that.
Problems Associated With Untreated Gestational Diabetes
If you have untreated gestational diabetes, your baby can have a variety of different problems. These include having a very large baby, and it significantly increases the chances of having a cesarean section. This is because the glucose in your blood becomes sugar, and your baby gains too much fat, making them bigger than normal. It can also mean that your baby has a higher chance of having Type 2 diabetes later in life, as well.
A baby born to a mother with gestational diabetes is also at risk for other problems, such as breathing problems, low calcium levels, and can often suffer severe jaundice. Their blood sugar levels can be low at birth, necessitating some extra sugar after birth.
After Your Baby Is Born
Your doctor will usually run a check on your blood sugar levels a month or two after your baby is born to make sure you no longer have gestational diabetes.
The bad news about gestational diabetes is that you have a much higher chance of having it in future pregnancies, and at least half of all women who have gestational diabetes will go on to have Type 2 diabetes later in life. So this is a good incentive for me to eat right, exercise and be at a healthy weight to avoid that future possibility.