For about 200,000 women a year, the challenge of pregnancy becomes even more complicated by gestational diabetes, an endocrine disorder that can affect both mom and baby. Gestational diabetes occurs when excess sugars from digested foods build up in a woman’s bloodstream instead of being used by the body as an energy source. Unlike other forms of diabetes, this condition affects women in the late stages of pregnancy, when hormones produced by the placenta impede the body’s ability to process insulin properly.
Although gestational diabetes disappears in 90 to 95 percent of women after they give birth, it’s important for pregnant women with the condition to care for themselves and their unborn babies. Left untreated, gestational diabetes may cause delivery complications and lead to sick, overweight newborns.
Detecting the condition is key to proper treatment. Some women have no symptoms and find out they have gestational diabetes through a routine screening for blood-sugar levels in the urine. Expectant mothers should be tested for diabetes during the 24th to 28th week of pregnancy.
Pregnant women face the highest risk of developing gestational diabetes if they are overweight, are over 25 years old or have a family history of diabetes. Certain ethnic groups also have a higher incidence of developing the condition.
Although gestational diabetes cannot be prevented, it can be controlled. Women must restrict their intake of sweets and carbohydrates, which have the greatest impact on blood-sugar levels. Focus on eating complex carbohydrates, including vegetables, whole grains and beans. These foods are high in fiber and reduce the amount of insulin required by the body to keep blood-sugar levels in check.
Exercise is also important, provided the doctor says it’s okay. Pregnant women can and do enjoy a variety of appropriate physical activities at every stage of their pregnancy, including walking and yoga. For best results, work out four to five times a week to increase the efficiency of the insulin the body produces and to avoid gaining too much weight.
In addition, regular doctor visits are essential. Women with gestational diabetes need to have their blood sugar monitored and must learn how to do frequent self-checks. Some women must also take insulin injections to help their bodies store and use sugar effectively.
Even after pregnancy, women who have had gestational diabetes should continue to have their blood sugar screened periodically, since they are at higher risk of developing diabetes later in life.