Diabetes Awareness Week: A Spotlight on Gestational Diabetes
Gestational diabetes is a common diagnosis in pregnancy – it affects around 1 in every 20 women. It’s natural to feel a little worried if you’ve been told you have gestational diabetes, but there are medical treatments and things you can do yourself to reduce risks to you and your baby. Most women who have gestational diabetes will have uncomplicated pregnancies and a healthy baby.
Being diagnosed is the first step, and your maternity team are used to taking care of women with gestational diabetes – they will support you with information and treatments.
“After an already difficult first pregnancy, finding out at 28 weeks I had gestational diabetes was quite a low point. I knew nothing about it and hadn’t ever considered this would be another hurdle I would have to contend with. Diabetes doesn’t run in our family and I didn’t fall into the ‘at risk’ category, so it came as quite a surprise. But I immediately changed my diet and stringently tracked my sugar levels daily. Through doing this I luckily avoided needed to take insulin. I was induced a week before my due date and my daughter was born a healthy 8lb 14oz.
I am now pregnant with my second and I know the chances of getting gestational diabetes again is higher since I have had it before. I was clear of diabetes at a 10 week check which was a huge relief, but I have a follow up check at 28 weeks to see if I have developed it again.”
How do I know if I have it?
Some women don’t have any symptoms at all, but if you do have symptoms they may include:
- Being very tired
- Needing to wee more often
- Having a dry mouth
- Being really thirsty
Some of these symptoms are common during pregnancy and are not necessarily a sign of gestational diabetes. You should speak to your midwife or doctor if you’re worried about any symptoms you’re experiencing.
As some women don’t have symptoms, you will be asked specific questions during your booking appointment, and your midwife may offer you a test to see if you have it.
Who is more at risk of getting it?
You will be offered a screening for gestational diabetes if any of the following things apply to you:
- You have had a baby who weighed 10lb (4.5kg) or more at birth
- You had gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy
- 1 of your parents or siblings has diabetes
- You are of south Asian, Black, African-Caribbean or Middle Eastern origin (even if you were born in the UK)
- Your body mass index (BMI) is above 30 – the NHS has a healthy weight calculator to if you want to work out what your BMI is.
What are the possible difficulties that can happen due to having gestational diabetes in pregnancy?
It is important to remember that most women with gestational diabetes will have uncomplicated pregnancies and healthy babies.
“I was induced a week before my due date and my daughter was born a healthy 8lb 14oz.”
Gestational diabetes can, however, lead to complications such as:
- Difficulties during delivery as the baby has grown larger than usual. This can increase the need for a caesarean section or instrumental delivery.
- Too much amniotic fluid (polyhydramnios), which may cause the baby to be born early.
- The baby being born early.
- Pre-eclampsia – high blood pressure in pregnancy, which can lead to complications.
- Jaundice in a newborn baby, which may require treatment in hospital.
- In very rare cases, a baby could be stillborn.
If you have gestational diabetes, you may be offered an induction to reduce any of these risks. Your maternity team will talk you through all of this – if you have any concerns do speak up.
There are ways that you can increase your chances of having an uncomplicated pregnancy and healthy baby if you have gestational diabetes – these relate to controlling your blood sugar levels.
Regularly check your blood sugar levels
You will be given a testing kit in order to do this and your maternity team will give you the know-how you need.
A healthy diet
Your maternity team should refer you to a dietician, who will help you plan healthy meals and advise about what you should and shouldn’t eat.
- Don’t skip meals – eat regularly (three meals a day).
- Choose healthier carbs (for example – brown rice, whole oats, fruit, vegetables, chickpeas, lentils, beans, granary bread).
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
- Try to swap sugary snacks and drinks for healthier alternatives.
- Eat lean protein like fish regularly – avoid fish with high levels of mercury (like swordfish and lots of tuna).
Being more active is a really good way of reducing your blood sugar level.
“ I immediately changed my diet and stringently tracked my sugar levels daily. Through doing this I luckily avoided needed to take insulin.”
Tips for exercise:
- Don’t exhaust yourself – you should be able to hold a conversation as you exercise.
- Don’t push yourself harder than you used to – if you didn’t do strenuous exercise before, then don’t take it up in pregnancy.
- Always warm up before you exercise, and cool down afterwards.
- Try to be active on a daily basis (a 30 minute walk each day, for example).
- Drink plenty of water.
Avoid certain things when exercising:
- Lying on your back for long periods of time as this can make you feel faint.
- Contact sports.
The NHS has put together some tips in more detail if you’d like to know more.
Your doctor may also prescribe some medicines if you can’t control your blood sugars – things like tablets and insulin injections.
Increased Monitoring for You and Your Baby
You will be monitored more during pregnancy to check that you and the baby are both okay. His will include an ultrasound scan at week 18 – 20, and also week 28, 32, and 36.
- NICE guideline [NG3]. Diabetes in pregnancy: management from preconception to the postnatal period. Retrieved from: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng3/chapter/Introduction
- NHS. Overview – Gestational Diabetes. Retrieved from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/gestational-diabetes/
- Diabetes UK: https://www.diabetes.org.uk/diabetes-the-basics/food-and-diabetes/i-have-gestational-diabetes
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