Growing a little human being can be one of the most incredible life experiences! Creating a family is of course beautiful, magical and life changing, but it definitely doesn’t come without challenges. Some of these challenges include health issues of mums-to-be. Of course, you’re all super women; in fact, pregnant women get very close to the limit of what the human body can handle! But all of this pressure can cause different things to happen to the body. One thing that can occur is gestational diabetes (GDB).
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What is GDB?
To put it simply, it’s a form of diabetes that only affects pregnant women who didn’t have diabetes before they got pregnant.
Diabetes causes high blood sugar and affects how your body makes the hormone, insulin. If your body doesn’t produce enough insulin, too much sugar stays in your blood instead of going into your cells to give you energy. This can then lead to more health issues.
GDB normally goes away after pregnancy but, if it isn’t managed, it can lead to type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Some studies argue that GDB is actually a bit of a fortune teller and can predict whether women will develop diabetes later in life. Luckily, there are some things that can reduce the risk of getting diabetes after having GDB.
Why does it happen during pregnancy?
It’s to do with your hormones. You probably know that hormones play a big part in pregnancy and their levels can change a lot. GDB is the doing of the placenta, which can build up a certain hormone (human placental lactogen or HPL). This can then increase blood sugar, and then the body isn’t able to produce or use enough insulin to cope with these pressures.
Pregnant women are actually naturally insulin-resistant, which is why GBD affects you during pregnancy but normally goes away after birth. It generally crops up in the second or third trimester and affects around 16% of pregnant women in the UK!
Who’s at risk of getting GDB?
Although it can happen to anyone, it’s been found that there are certain factors that put some women at higher risk of getting GDB than others, such as if you:
- Have had it before
- Were overweight or obese before you got pregnant
- Have had a larger baby before (10lb or more)
- Have a family history of diabetes
- Are of Black, African-Caribbean, south Asian or Middle Eastern origin
What are the symptoms of GDB?
It’s pretty common not to have any symptoms and you’ll find out about it from pregnancy screening tests. There’s a small chance that you may notice some things like:
- Feeling very thirsty
- Dry mouth
- Needing to wee more often
You’ve probably noticed that these are all things that can happen because of pregnancy anyway, which is why GDB is normally found during screenings.
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What does it mean for your pregnancy?
The majority of women with GDB still have a normal pregnancy and a healthy bouncing baby. But, unfortunately, GDB can lead to a few problems like:
- A bigger baby which might mean induced labour or a C-section
- Premature labour/birth or other delivery problems
- Pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure that can lead to complications)
- Baby may have low blood sugar or jaundice and might need treatment in hospital
- Stillbirth (but this is rare – good blood sugar control virtually eliminates this)
Tips on living with GDB
Because you normally won’t have any symptoms, finding out you have GDB can be a bit of a shock, but don’t panic! There are a few things you can do to help reduce the effects and lower the risk of it becoming type 1 or 2 diabetes.
Take a look at your diet
Pregnancy can make some strange things happen to our bodies, including making us feel mega hungry and giving us some interesting cravings (ice cream on toast, anyone?). When you’re feeling sluggish, it’s super easy to give into these cravings, but taking control and following a healthy diet can really help if you have GDB.
Eating for two is basically a myth. You’ll only need an extra 200-300 calories a day, but not until the third trimester. Eating little and often can help regulate blood sugar. Try to fill your diet with fruit, vegetables, lean meat, wholegrains (brown rice, whole oats), pulses (chickpeas, lentils) dairy (unsweetened yoghurt, milk) and stick to starchy foods with a low glycaemic index. Avoid eating too many carbs at one time and skipping meals is a big no-no.
And although it might be hard to do, cutting down sugar is a big plus. Try switching to water instead of sugary drinks and juice and change to low-calorie sweeteners instead of sugar. You should also cut down on processed foods like biscuits, cake and ice cream and limit carbs (bread, rice, pasta, etc.)
This may sound a bit boring, but it doesn’t have to be. There are loads of recipe books available, and plenty of recipes online – yum!
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You’ve probably heard about how important gentle exercise is throughout pregnancy and this is even more important when it comes to GDB. We know you’re exhausted and probably just want to plop down on the sofa and have a Netflix binge, but regular exercise (try 30 minutes a day) can help lower blood glucose levels. It helps move blood sugar into your cells to be used for energy, rather than letting it build up.
And you don’t need to drag yourself down the gym – yoga, walking and swimming are all awesome and safe for your pregnant body.
Monitor your blood sugar levels
Your doctor will give you a blood glucose monitor, meaning you can keep track at home. It’s done by pricking your finger and putting some blood on a little test strip. The strip goes into the monitor and the monitor tells you your blood glucose levels.
You should talk to your doctor about what your levels should be. This whole thing might take some getting used to, but it’s super helpful when it comes to controlling your GDB as it can help you figure out what diet and exercise works for your body.
Discuss medication with your doctor
Don’t fret if your blood sugar levels can’t be controlled by diet and exercise alone – this is the case for many pregnancies. If your levels don’t change within the first few weeks of changing your diet and exercising more, your doctor might recommend medication.
Metformin is a tablet taken three times a day and it can help improve how your body deals with insulin and lower your blood sugar levels.
Insulin might be prescribed if the metformin doesn’t work or causes side effects. You take it by injecting it into yourself and it helps your body to use sugar as energy rather than storing it.
This may sound a little bit scary, but it’s something you’ll get used to doing and it will be majorly beneficial for you and your baby in the long run!
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Maintain a healthy weight
You will gain some weight during pregnancy, and your weight at the start will determine just how much is needed. A healthy weight gain can range from 15lb (for overweight women) to 40lb (for underweight women). These are just examples – your doctor will be able to tell you how much weight you should gain.
Sticking to this weight gain and tracking your weight as you grow can help reduce the risk of gaining too much. Too much weight gain can increase the risks and effects of GDB – something we definitely want to avoid!
Pregnancy is super intense, and you’re all absolute champions for getting through it. Let us know if you’ve got any questions on GDB – we’re here to help! And check out our blog for more pregnancy and parenting info and tips. Happy reading, parent-to-be!