Approximately 5 percent of all pregnant women in the United States will develop gestational diabetes. Most women with gestational diabetes deliver healthy babies. But the condition can put your baby at risk for complications during delivery and after birth.
Gestational diabetes develops over time during pregnancy. Researchers believe changes in hormone levels make it difficult for a woman’s body to use insulin, which acts as a key to open the door for cells to draw sugar or glucose out of the blood. If the pancreas cannot produce enough insulin to offset the higher hormone levels, blood glucose levels rise and gestational diabetes develops.
Gestational diabetes is usually diagnosed after week 20 of pregnancy, after the baby’s body has formed. This means gestational diabetes does not cause the same kinds of birth defects that may be seen in babies whose mothers had diabetes at the start of pregnancy. But having high blood sugar can still put your baby at risk of other health risks. These risks include:
- Big or “fat” baby – If you have gestational diabetes, your cells are resistant to insulin. This means the cells ignore the key they need to open up and take in glucose to use as energy. Because the cells are not using the available sugar, the excess sugar builds up in the blood. Glucose or sugar in the blood passes through the placenta to your baby. But insulin does not pass through the placenta. This causes the baby to be overfed. When your baby’s body senses there is extra sugar available, his pancreas pumps out extra insulin to use the sugar. When the body has more sugar than it currently needs for energy, it converts the extra to fat and stores it for future use. This condition can result in a baby that is significantly larger than normal, which is known as macrosomia or a “fat” baby. Babies with macrosomia may be too large to deliver vaginally and may have to be delivered by cesarean section (C-section). Babies delivered vaginally may suffer nerve damage caused by pressure on their shoulders during delivery.
- Hypoglycemia – If your sugar levels are not controlled, your baby’s pancreas produces extra insulin to compensate for the extra sugar in the blood you are providing him. At birth, that extra supply of sugar is suddenly cut off and your baby’s blood sugar can drop to a dangerously low level shortly after birth. If you have gestational diabetes, your baby’s sugar levels will be checked soon after he is born so extra glucose can be given to him if needed until his pancreas adjusts to the new, lower blood sugar level.
If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, you can significantly lower the risks for your baby by maintaining tight control of your blood sugar for the rest of your pregnancy. Your health care team will advise you on how often you need to check your blood sugar each day and what steps you can take to control your sugar levels through diet, exercise, and medications including insulin injections.
Denise DeWitt is a freelance writer for EmpowHER.com.
University of Maryland Medical Center. Gestational Diabetes. Web. March 26, 2012.
American Diabetes Association. What is Gestational Diabetes? Web. March 26, 2012.
Mayo Clinic. Pregnancy and diabetes: Why lifestyle counts. Web. March 26, 2012.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Gestational Diabetes and Pregnancy. Web. March 26, 2012.