Thanks to crazy pregnancy hormones, everything from overwhelming joy to unexpected tears is simply part of the 9-month process. But, just after the half-way point of pregnancy, some women are subject to another gripping emotion: fear. A diagnosis of gestational diabetes can be scary, but with the right treatment, most women and babies can go on to have a healthy pregnancy and delivery.

What Is Gestational Diabetes?

Gestational diabetes occurs when pregnant women have high blood glucose levels. Most of the time, women with gestational diabetes only experience these insulin issues while carrying a child. It usually develops around the 24th week of pregnancy and affects roughly 18 percent of all pregnant women.

What Causes Gestational Diabetes?

In the womb, the baby is supported by the placenta. The placenta’s hormones are essential for proper fetal development, but sometimes, those hormones can also cause issues with the mother’s insulin. This makes it difficult for the mother to process the sugar in her body. That glucose builds up in the blood and results in gestational diabetes.

How Is Gestational Diabetes Diagnosed and Treated?

Between the 24th and 28th week of pregnancy, most women are screened for this condition. For the test, the woman is required to drink a special glucose beverage and then, have her blood drawn one hour later. Blood glucose levels at that time should be under 140 mg/dL. If the levels of this test are elevated, the woman will take a second test that measures her blood glucose levels over a three-hour period. If those levels are elevated, the woman is diagnosed with gestational diabetes.

Depending on the severity of the condition, pregnant women may control their diabetes with glucose self-monitoring, insulin therapy, and lifestyle changes.

Can Gestational Diabetes Harm An Unborn Baby?

If gestational diabetes goes undiagnosed or untreated, both the mother and the unborn baby are at risk of serious complications. In particular, the baby’s pancreas will work overtime in order to process the extra glucose. The glucose that the baby cannot process is stored as fat and the baby may grow excessively large. This becomes a very serious issue during the final weeks of pregnancy and the delivery.

In order to avoid complications, doctors keep a very close eye on pregnant women with gestational diabetes. Frequent fetal monitoring will ensure the baby stays healthy and within a specified weight range.

What Happens Next?

For some women with gestational diabetes, delivery can be difficult. Especially large babies (termed macrosomia) can be subject to shoulder trauma during vaginal delivery. Alternatively, doctors recommend that some women with large babies have scheduled c-sections.

After delivery, hospital staff will watch the baby very carefully. Since the infant was exposed to so much insulin in the womb, its pancreas is still working extra hard after delivery. This can lead to low blood glucose levels and breathing problems after birth.  If the mother has properly controlled her insulin levels, the baby will most likely be average-sized and healthy at the time of delivery.

For most moms, gestational diabetes disappears after delivery. However, the likelihood of experiencing the condition in a future pregnancy is over 60 percent. They also have an increased chance of developing Type 2 Diabetes later in life.

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