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Pregnancy Diabetes: What Is Gestational Diabetes?

What is Pregnancy Diabetes / Gestational Diabetes Mellitus (GDM)?

According to Stanford Children’s Health, pregnancy diabetes, gestational diabetes mellitus or GDM, is “a condition in which a hormone made by the placenta prevents the body from using insulin effectively. Unlike type 1 diabetes, gestational diabetes is not caused by a lack of insulin, but by other hormones produced during pregnancy that can make insulin less effective, a condition referred to as insulin resistance.”

Pregnancy diabetes symptoms typically disappear after birth. Approximately 3 to 8 percent of all pregnant women in the United States are diagnosed with gestational diabetes.

What causes GDM?

Researchers don’t really know! The theory is that in some women, their pregnancy hormones, like estrogen, cortisol and lactogen, have a sort of blocking effect on insulin. “Normally, the pancreas is able to make additional insulin to overcome insulin resistance, but when the production of insulin is not enough to overcome the effect of the placental hormones, gestational diabetes results.”

How is GDM diagnosed?

Who knew that things like diagnosing pregnancy-related conditions could be controversial? But they can be, including how to diagnose GDM. This happens when there is a lack of high-quality research (randomized, control trials) in a specific field. If you’d like to know more about this, check out this blog from Evidence-Based Birth. Your birth doula team can also help you create a list of questions to ask your care provider.

Your health care provider will offer a screening to you between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy. This usually involves drinking Glucola, an oral glucose. This screening identifies if you’re at risk of developing GDM. Further testing must be done to diagnose if you have the condition.

How is GDM treated?

Your health care provider will prescribe a treatment specific for you. GDM treatments include a special diet, exercise, glucose monitoring and/or insulin injections.

Are there any complications from GDM?

Women with GDM may be at a higher risk of developing type II diabetes later in life and should be screened occasionally.

Again, from Stanford Children’s Health: “The complications of GDM are usually manageable and preventable. The key to prevention is careful control of blood sugar levels just as soon as the diagnosis of diabetes is made.”

In general, there are two major complications from GDM – macrosomia and hypoglycemia. Macrosomia is either defined as babies who weigh more than 4000 or 4500 grams at birth (another area where researchers disagree.) Hypoglycemia is low blood sugar levels in the baby immediately after delivery.

Please note: we are not licensed medical care providers and the above post is intended to provide information only, not to be used as medical advice.

About Amy Lewis

Amy is the co-owner of Buddha Belly. She is passionate about assisting women through life's most challenging transitions and nurtures a lifelong commitment to women in serving mothers as a doula.

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