Pregnancy is filled with plenty of doctor’s appointments, tests, ultrasounds and surprises. Hearing the heart beat, finding out the gender (if you choose to) and watching your wee one squirm on the screen are all very happy surprises.
Finding out you have gestational diabetes? Not so much.
However, for 12-14% of all expecting mums in Australia, this is the reality. So what should you know if you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes (GDM)? What are the gestational diabetes signs and symptoms? Is there a certain diet you should follow? Can you make it go away?
We spoke to Melbourne diabetes nurse educator, Emily Fitz to find out.
What is gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes (GDM) is a form of diabetes which occurs in women during pregnancy. It is not the same as Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes.
“During a pregnancy, some of the hormones produced by the placenta reduce the action of insulin. Insulin is needed to allow glucose from the bloodstream to enter the body’s cells to be used as energy,” Emily explains.
“Because of these hormones from the placenta, the pancreas needs to produce extra insulin to keep blood glucose within normal limits.”
The main concern with gestational diabetes is that it impacts not only you, but also bubba. Glucose is designed to cross into the placenta and give bub energy to grow. But if there is too much glucose going to bub, it can cause your baby to make more insulin which can result in your baby growing larger more quickly. This can lead to complications during and after birth.
Gestational diabetes has nothing to do with eating poorly
When you hear the word diabetes, you automatically think that this condition has something to do with eating too many sweets or consuming too much sugar. This isn’t the case at all.
“This is NOT a condition you have caused by eating badly or not exercising in the first trimester,” Emily assures us. “This condition is pre-determined at conception.”
Although gestational diabetes can occur in any woman who is pregnant, there are a few risk factors that can increase your chance of getting it. These include:
- Women aged over 40
- Those who have a family history of type 2 diabetes
- Women who are above the healthy weight range
- Those who have elevated blood glucose levels pre-pregnancy
- Women with an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander background, Polynesian, Chinese, Southeast Asian, Middle Eastern or Indian background
- Those who have been diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
- Women who have had a previous GDM diagnosis
Gestational diabetes signs and symptoms
Most women are completely unaware they have gestational diabetes. This is because gestational diabetes symptoms aren’t very obvious and often can be caused by a number of other more common issues. In fact, most are just regular ol’ pregnancy symptoms that all women experience from day to day. Like having to wee a lot.
Gestational diabetes symptoms can include:
- Unusual thirst
- Excessive urination
- Thrush (yeast infections).
How do I know I have it?
When you are pregnant, you will be tested for gestational diabetes, normally between week 24 and week 28 of your pregnancy. You may need to give a blood sample and take an oral glucose tolerance test (POGTT). You will need to fast the night before and then consume a glucose beverage that sort of tastes like a combination of chalk and orange syrup. Yum.
Gestational diabetes diet and treatment
If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, you can expect extra visits to your doctor and extra monitoring.
“First line of treatment is monitoring blood sugars four times a day for the remainder of the pregnancy,” Emily tells Mum Central. “Plus changes to diet and adding in exercise, such as a 30 minute walk each day.”
50% of women will also need insulin injections to manage their GDM. A gestational diabetes diet consists of healthy choices, which you may already make. Or, you may have to switch a few of your fave items for these healthier foods, rich in:
- Calcium: milk and cheese
- Iron: red meat, chicken and fish
- Folic acid: leafy green veggies
- Carbs: grains, cereals, fruits, pasta and rice
You will also need to reduce your intake of saturated fat and sugar, meaning processed, takeaway and sweets are off the menu. Or limited at least.
There’s a lot of different conditions that you can end up with during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes is quite common and manageable. So, if you are diagnosed with GDM, don’t panic! Speak regularly with your doctor. And remember, GDM goes away as soon as you have bub.
Gestational diabetes is just one pregnancy complication that can throw a spanner in your baby-growing works. Take a look at our article about other pregnancy complications women need to know about.