This information is for you if you wish to know more about diabetes that develops in pregnancy (gestational diabetes) or have been told that you have gestational diabetes. It tells you:
- What gestational diabetes is
- How it is diagnosed
- What extra antenatal care you can expect
- What this diagnosis means for you and your baby, now and in the future.
What is gestational diabetes?
Diabetes that develops during the pregnancy is known as gestational diabetes. It occurs because your body cannot produce enough insulin (a hormone important in controlling blood glucose) to meet its extra need in pregnancy. This results in high blood glucose levels.Gestational diabetes usually starts in the middle or towards the end of pregnancy.
How common is gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is very common. It may affect up to 18 in 100 women during pregnancy. You are more likely to develop gestational diabetes if you have any of the following risk factors:
- your body mass index (BMI) is 30 or higher
- you have previously given birth to a large baby, weight 4.5 kg (10 lbs) or more
- you have had gestational diabetes before
- you have a parent, brother or sister with diabetes
- you family origin in south Asia, Chinese, African-Caribbean or Middle Eastern
How will I be checked for gestational diabetes?
If you have any of the above risk factors, you should be offered a glucose test during your pregnancy. This may be a simple blood test in early pregnancy and/or a glucose tolerance test(GTT) when you are about 26 and 28 weeks pregnant. A GTT involves fasting overnight (not eating or drinking anything apart from water): In the morning, before breakfast, you will have a blood test. You are then given a glucose drink. The blood test is repeated 1-2 later to see how your body react to the glucose drink. If you have had gestation diabetes in a previous pregnancy, you may be offered a glucose test, or a kit to check your own blood glucose levels, early in pregnancy as well as a GTT at 24-28 weeks.
What does gestational diabetes mean for me and my baby?
Most women who develop diabetes in pregnancy have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies but occasionally gestation diabetes can cause serious problems, especially if it goes unrecognised. Diagnosing and treating gestation diabetes reduce these risks. It is important to control the level of glucose in your body during pregnancy. If your blood glucose is too high, your baby will produce more insulin, which can make your baby grow bigger and increase the likelihood of having your labour induced, caesarean section, serious birth problems and stillbirth. These risks are higher if gestational diabetes is not detected and controlled.
A baby that is making extra insulin may have low blood glucose after birth (see below – What happens after my baby is born?) and is more likely to need additional care in a neonatal unit. Your baby may also be at greater risk of developing obesity and/or diabetes in later life. Controlling your levels of blood glucose during pregnancy and labour reduces the risk of all these complications for you and your baby.
What extra care will I need during pregnancy?
If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, you will be under the care of specialist healthcare team and will be advised to have your baby in a consultant-led maternity unit that has a neonatal unit. Your healthcare team will usually include a doctor specialising in diabetes, an obstetrician, a specialist diabetes nurse, and a dietician. You should start receiving extra antenatal care as soon as your gestational diabetes is diagnosed. Having gestational diabetes will mean more clinic visits at the hospital.
Healthy eating and exercise
The most important treatment for gestational diabetes is a healthy eating plan and exercise. Gestational diabetes usually improves with these changes although some women, despite their best efforts, need to take tablets and/or give themselves insulin injections. You should have an opportunity to talk to a dietician about choosing food that will help to keep your blood glucose at a healthy and a stable level..
Monitoring your blood glucose
After you have been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, you will be shown how to check your blood glucose levels and told what your ideal level should be.