Gestational diabetes is defined as high blood glucose (sugar) levels during pregnancy in a woman who has never had blood sugar issues in the past. This condition usually develops during the second trimester of pregnancy, around weeks 24-28, and affects about 9% of women. It is routinely tested for as a part of standard prenatal care.
The exact cause of gestational diabetes is unknown, but it is believed to be related to hormones produced by the placenta. While the placenta does an amazing job at nourishing the baby, placental hormones block the mother’s production of insulin, the hormone that regulates blood glucose levels. This requires the mother’s body to produce more insulin. When insulin production does not keep up with the mother’s needs, glucose remains in the blood rather than being converted into energy. Over time, these levels can become high enough to be diagnosed as gestational diabetes.
Gestational diabetes carries risks for both mother and baby. It can cause babies to grow too large, and especially to deposit excess fat as they grow. This can result in difficult birth and an increased risk of C-section. It also puts the baby at risk for low blood glucose levels at birth, obesity during childhood, and an increased risk for type 2 diabetes as an adult.
Although gestational diabetes often resolves after birth, women who develop it are at increased risk for the same condition in subsequent pregnancies, as well as at increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes in the future. Because of the risks to mother and baby, treatment generally starts quickly after diagnosis. Doctors will always recommend specific meal plans as well as increased physical activity, which for many women is enough to regulate blood glucose to safe levels. If not, daily blood glucose testing and insulin injections may also be prescribed.
There are concrete ways to help prevent gestational diabetes, as well as to prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes later in life. Being 20% or more over your ideal body weight increases your risk… so losing even a small amount of weight can help. A healthy diet is also key: focus on fresh fruits and vegetables; watch portion size; and limit simple carbohydrates (such as white bread, any other products made with white flour, and white sugar). Finally, exercise helps the body use glucose efficiently; regular, moderate exercise will help keep high blood glucose levels at bay.
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine are also excellent ways to address the root causes of gestational diabetes. Treatments in our clinic, along with personalized lifestyle suggestions, can address the imbalances that cause diabetes as well as help prevent it from resolving post-pregnancy. If you have a history of gestational diabetes or have recently been diagnosed, contact the pregnancy specialists at TCRA to learn more.