What is gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is a temporary form of diabetes that develops during pregnancy and generally disappears after the baby is born. It typically develops between the 24th and 28th week of pregnancy, although it can occur earlier or later.
Causes of gestational diabetes
Gestational diabetes develops when the insulin that is produced by the pancreas is unable to manage the blood glucose levels effectively. Insulin’s job is to move the glucose into the cells for energy.
When you are pregnant, the placenta produces hormones that reduce the action of insulin, resulting in the pancreas having to overproduce insulin to compensate for the difference. If the pancreas is unable to produce the extra insulin needed, you have gestational diabetes.
- Family history of type 2 diabetes
- Aged over 40 years
- Being overweight
- Prior history of gestational diabetes
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome
- Some cultural backgrounds
Gestational diabetes testing
All pregnant women are screened for gestational diabetes at 24 to 28 weeks gestation by their GP or obstetrician.
Testing for gestational diabetes involves the oral glucose tolerance test; this measures your body’s ability to breakdown glucose. Essentially, the test measures how your body responds to a 75g glucose load.
Before you come for the test, you need to fast (not eat or drink) from 10.30pm the night before, so a baseline result can be recorded.
When you come in for the test, a blood sample is taken from your arm that will test the level of glucose in your blood when you’ve been fasting.
You are then given a sweet, sugary drink (75g glucose load), with blood samples taken at one and two hours after you have finished the drink. This tests your body’s response to the glucose.
During this time it is best to sit quietly and relax. Bring a book, some music and headphones or a magazine to help you pass the time. We generally suggest that you do not bring children as the appointment can take two hours.
Symptoms of gestational diabetes
Women with gestational diabetes generally experience no symptoms. This is why it is very important that you have the screening test to check for gestational diabetes.
What if I do have gestational diabetes?
Do not panic. If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, you may wonder what this means for you and your baby. Your maternity care provider will give you all the information you need.
Gestational diabetes is usually managed by eating healthy and physical activity. Some women (about one in three) will require treatment to help control their blood glucose during pregnancy.
The good news is that help will be on hand and you may be referred to a nurse with expertise in diabetes care, a dietitian or another doctor.