Living with Gestational Diabetes

by Katelyn Schwanke
(last updated September 5, 2008)

Gestational diabetes is the one type of diabetes that is generally short lived. Gestational diabetes occurs only in pregnant women when blood sugars rise above normal target range (over 120). Gestational diabetes generally has a quick onset (first few months of pregnancy) and ends soon after the mother has given birth. Gestational diabetes occurs in three to eight percent of women, so if you or a loved one is planning to become pregnant, or is already pregnant, you should consider learning more about this type of diabetes.

Gestational diabetes occurs because mother's tissues become resistant to a hormone called insulin. When you eat food, your body digests it and breaks down all the carbohydrates into sugar, or glucose. When glucose enters the bloodstream your brain signals your pancreas (a digestive- and hormone-regulating organ) to release insulin. Insulin helps glucose to leave the bloodstream and enter your muscles for energy. For pregnant women, the muscles and placenta (the sac surrounding the baby) become resistant to insulin so that glucose remains in the blood stream, ultimately creating a higher level of blood sugar (consistently higher than 120).

Some women are more at risk for this rise in blood sugar than others. Some risk factors for gestational diabetes include age (older than 25), family history (family members with type 2 diabetes or who have had babies over 9 pounds), weight (inactive, overweight women are more at risk), and race (women who are African American, American Indian, Hispanic or Asian are more at risk). Although many of the risk factors mentioned are out of your control, you can generally try to control your weight and lifestyle during and preceding pregnancy. Ask your doctor what the best weight for you is and then ask advice on improving eating habits and making exercise habit.

If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes you can generally control it with diet, exercise, careful monitoring and potentially medication. Diets high in fiber (vegetables, whole grains and fruit) and low in saturated fat (cheese, meat, store-bought foods, and processed foods are high in saturated fat) can help control your diabetes. Ask your doctor about which foods are most likely to raise your blood sugar and then you can develop a diet along those guidelines.

Exercising at least thirty minutes a day (sixty minutes is optimal) will help your body use the sugar you are taking in. If you monitor regularly with a glucometer (blood sugar tester) then you will know when to eat and when to exercise during your day. (You should note that for biological reasons your blood sugar will generally be higher in the morning.)

If all these things are not enough to keep your blood sugar at optimal levels, consult your doctor and he may prescribe medications that will help to lower your blood sugar so that you and baby are healthier.

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