During pregnancy – usually around the 24th week – many women develop gestational diabetes. A diagnosis of gestational diabetes doesn't mean that you had diabetes before you conceived, or that you will have diabetes after giving birth. But it's important to follow your doctor's advice regarding blood glucose (blood sugar) levels while you're planning your pregnancy, so you and your baby both remain healthy.
Women with gestational diabetes often have no symptoms, which is why it's important for at-risk women to be tested at the proper time during pregnancy.
Pregnant women who have never had diabetes before but who have high blood glucose (sugar) levels during pregnancy are said to have gestational diabetes. According to a 2014 analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of gestational diabetes is as high as 9.2%.
We don't know what causes gestational diabetes, but we have some clues. The placenta supports the baby as it grows. Hormones from the placenta help the baby develop. But these hormones also block the action of the mother's insulin in her body. This problem is called insulin resistance. Insulin resistance makes it hard for the mother's body to use insulin. She may need up to three times as much insulin.
Gestational diabetes starts when your body is not able to make and use all the insulin it needs for pregnancy. Without enough insulin, glucose cannot leave the blood and be changed to energy. Glucose builds up in the blood to high levels. This is called hyperglycemia.
Because gestational diabetes can hurt you and your baby, you need to start treatment quickly.
Treatment for gestational diabetes aims to keep blood glucose levels equal to those of pregnant women who don't have gestational diabetes. Treatment for gestational diabetes always includes special meal plans and scheduled physical activity. It may also include daily blood glucose testing and insulin injections.
If you're testing your blood glucose, the American Diabetes Association suggests the following targets for women who develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy. More or less stringent glycemic goals may be appropriate for each individual.
- Before a meal (preprandial): 95 mg/dl or less
- 1-hour after a meal (postprandial): 140 mg/dl or less
- 2-hours after a meal (postprandial): 120 mg/dl or less
You will need help from your doctor, nurse educator, and other members of your health care team so that your treatment for gestational diabetes can be changed as needed. For you as the mother-to-be, treatment for gestational diabetes helps lower the risk of a cesarean section birth that very large babies may require.
Sticking with your treatment for gestational diabetes will give you a healthy pregnancy and birth, and may help your baby avoid future poor health.