Diabetes During Pregnancy

Having a Baby? Get Screened for Diabetes

If you are a mother-to-be, your health is central to your baby's well-being. Gestational diabetes can threaten this vital connection. It can cause trouble with delivery, premature birth, and other serious problems. That's why health experts recommend that all pregnant women be screened for the disease.

What is gestational diabetes?

Most people gradually develop diabetes. An unhealthy diet coupled with a lack of physical activity can lead to type 2 diabetes—the most common form of the disease. For women, though, pregnancy poses a unique risk.

During pregnancy, a woman's body goes through many changes. She gains weight, and her hormones spike. These changes can interfere with the production of insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas. Without enough insulin, the body can't absorb blood sugar properly. High levels of blood sugar during pregnancy are the hallmark of gestational diabetes.

Experts estimate that nearly 1 out of 4 pregnant women will develop gestational diabetes. It's more likely to occur in overweight women. You are also more likely to get it if you have a personal or family history of prediabetes or diabetes.

Why does screening matter?

Finding gestational diabetes early can limit its harmful effects. Women with the disease face a higher risk for high blood pressure during pregnancy. Called preeclampsia, this condition can cause a stroke in the mother-to-be and early birth of the baby. Women with gestational diabetes also tend to have larger sized infants. That can make delivery difficult.

The U.S. Preventive Service Task Force—an independent panel of health experts—recommends that all pregnant women be screened for gestational diabetes after 24 weeks of pregnancy. That's when the disease most often shows up. The Endocrine Society suggests screening at the first prenatal visit. Talk with your doctor to decide when screening is right for you.

Screening is simple. You will first have to drink a special sugary beverage. After 1 hour, a blood sample will be drawn. Your blood will be tested for high blood sugar levels. If the test is positive, your doctor may recommend more testing to confirm the diagnosis.

If you have gestational diabetes, you need to control your blood sugar levels. Exercising every day and watching what you eat are key strategies in managing the condition. You may also need to check your blood sugar regularly, especially before and after eating. Based on your condition, your doctor may recommend you take insulin.

Most cases of gestational diabetes go away after a woman gives birth. As hormones drop, insulin production and blood sugar levels return to normal. Yet, these women still face a higher risk of developing diabetes later on. As a result, you should have your blood sugar checked 6 to 12 weeks after having your baby. Your doctor may also want to test you every 1 to 3 years after that.

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