What You Need to Know About Gestational Diabetes

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The term “gestational diabetes” is pretty explanatory. From the label alone, you can figure out it has at least something to do with diabetes and pregnancy, but you’ll need to do a little digging or consulting to find out exactly what it does to your body, how it’s caused, and how it’s treated. To save you the struggle, we consulted a pro for a full breakdown on the health concern.

According to Dr. Catherine Goodstein, a New York City-based Ob/Gyn, gestational diabetes, or GDM, is a form of diabetes that is diagnosed and screened for at the end of the second trimester of pregnancy. However, she says if the pregnant person has risk factors, like obesity or has had GDM during a prior pregnancy, the screening can be done as early as the first trimester.

"The screening consists of giving patients a sugary drink and then seeing how their bodies react to the drink with a blood test an hour later," says Dr. Goodstein. Also, if they fail the screening, Dr. Goodstein says they might have had pre-gestational diabetes, which is a diabetes that existed before pregnancy.

While it often goes away during the time of delivery, hence its name, Dr. Goodstein says there is a chance it could have lasting effects. "Six weeks after delivering a woman who had GDM in pregnancy should be screened for type 2 diabetes. Many will pass the test, but about 50 percent of women with gestational diabetes will go on to develop type 2 diabetes later in their lives. GDM can also increase the rate of heart disease for women later in life."

It can also have serious implications for your baby, such as an increased risk of delivering a very large baby, which could result in traumatic injuries or an increased rate of cesarean sections.

"These babies are more likely to have low blood sugar and increased bilirubin, which can lead to jaundice," she continues. "The good news is that diagnosing and treating GDM can decrease these adverse outcomes."

So how does one treat GDM? First, as always, prevention is key. This can include maintaining a healthy body weight before getting pregnant. "If GDM is diagnosed, the first step in treatment is diet modification, specifically following a low glycemic diet, something all of us should strive to do," says Dr. Goodstein. "If diet modifications are not enough to lower a pregnant woman’s blood sugars, then medications are added to lower the sugars further. Exercise, even going for a walk after meals, may also be helpful."

As always, if you have any concerns or questions about GDM and how it can impact your health, ask your doctor or a health professional.

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