Pregnancy is a beautiful moment in every woman’s life. Perhaps this is when you may feel the strongest, in the sense that you can carry a new life in your womb. But pregnancy isn’t a bed of roses for some. Approximately 8% of pregnant women experience complications such as hyperemesis gravidarum, placenta previa, gestational hypertension, and gestational diabetes.
Unlike my 1st pregnancy 11 years ago, the 2 subsequent pregnancies had hiccups. I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes and that changed the trajectory of my pregnancies. While I was eating for 2 with my firstborn, it was the exact opposite when I was pregnant with my other kids. I never thought I’d be asked to eat less to manage my pregnancies.
With a family history of gestational diabetes, the chances of having it were higher, but I didn’t think I’d have it. I’ll share my experience and some facts about gestational diabetes to help you learn more about it and answer the frequently asked questions.
What is gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes, also known as GD, is a condition during pregnancy where your blood sugar levels become significantly high. Like typical diabetes, this condition may affect how your body responds by increasing your blood sugar level even when you don’t have any history of diabetes pre-pregnancy.
You are prone to having gestational diabetes if:
- You’re overweight or obese according to your Body Mass Index (BMI).
- You have a history of diabetes in the family.
- You’re more than 25 years of age.
- You were diagnosed with prediabetes before you got pregnant.
- You’re hypertensive.
What causes gestational diabetes in pregnancy?
When you’re pregnant, your body goes through changes that might make it unable to produce the extra insulin needed during pregnancy. Insulin’s primary function is to help your body convert glucose into energy and control your blood sugar level. If your body cannot use its insulin well due to the physical and hormonal changes that occur during pregnancy, you will experience insulin resistance.
Can gestational diabetes be prevented?
The fact is gestational diabetes is unavoidable, but you can do something to minimize its risks with these dos and don’ts:
- Maintain a healthy weight when trying to conceive and while you’re pregnant. When you’re overweight, you increase the chance of having GD.
- Keep a healthy and active lifestyle. If you’re working out, your body becomes sensitive to insulin which helps regulate your blood sugar level.
- Do NOT miss your doctor’s appointments. You can talk to your gynecologist about the symptoms that you’re experiencing. He may confirm early on if you have GD and help you manage it throughout your pregnancy.
What are the gestational diabetes symptoms?
Looking back, I didn’t show any symptoms of gestational diabetes when I was pregnant with my 2nd child or maybe I just didn’t know better. Like any other pregnant woman, I would often visit the bathroom and always got hungry so I thought my hormones were acting up.
If this is your 1st pregnancy and you don’t have any history of diabetes, it may be difficult to pinpoint the signs. Listen to your body and beware of the changes. If you have any of the symptoms below, call your doctor for confirmatory tests:
- You frequently visit the bathroom to urinate.
- You’re always thirsty or hungry.
- You have an infection (bladder, vaginal, or skin).
- You have episodes of blurred vision.
- You’re always tired, or you feel nauseated.
- You may have experienced a sudden weight loss.
Like any other disease, you shouldn’t self-medicate. Remember, you’re not only taking care of your body.
Feeling the symptoms is one thing, but confirming whether you have gestational diabetes is another. On my 24th week, a glucose screening test was done as part of my prenatal tests. Everything was on track except for my blood sugar level. Another round of glucose testing confirmed that I had GD.
The oral glucose challenge test (OGCT) is done to screen your sugar level. If you have an unfavorable result with the OGCT, you’ll proceed with the oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT). If your blood sugar level is high 2 or more times, you’re diagnosed with gestational diabetes.
Can you eat before the gestational diabetes test? The answer is yes and no. Fasting for not less than 8 hours is required if you take the OGTT while you won’t have any food restrictions for the OGCT. It is imperative to undergo a GD test even if you are not feeling any symptoms. As was my case, some pregnant women don’t have noticeable symptoms.
How to manage gestational diabetes
You can manage your gestational diabetes by keeping a healthy lifestyle throughout your pregnancy. My doctor told me that I needed to make some lifestyle changes to manage my condition. We had the same goal back then, which was to have a smooth pregnancy and birth despite my diagnosis. We came up with a diabetes care plan that I had to strictly follow until delivery. Here are some tips that might also work for you if you have gestational diabetes;
- Follow the diabetes care plan provided by your doctor. As part of the program, I had to use a glucometer at home to monitor my blood sugar levels first in the morning and 2 hours after each meal. I kept a gestational diabetes log sheet so my doctor and I could monitor the glucose levels. My doctor also advised me to inform her if the results were too high or too low.
- Make some dietary modifications for gestational diabetes. I made the changes because I needed to control my calorie intake. I started eating a well-balanced meal which included fruits and vegetables, a moderate amount of fish and meat, and whole grains. Also, I had to avoid foods and beverages loaded with sugar, such as pastries, soda, and fruit juices.
- Increase your daily physical activities. I walked in the morning and afternoon. Studies have shown the benefits of exercise in managing GD.
It was a challenging phase, but I needed to do my best to make sure that I could cope with GD without putting myself and my baby at risk. It’s best to manage your gestational diabetes early to prevent further complications for you and your baby. Babies born to gestational diabetic mothers who’ve not taken necessary measures are prone to more severe health conditions such as macrosomia, congenital disabilities, premature birth, and lung issues, and they can develop diabetes and obesity later in life.
If your glucose level is not improving after a lifestyle modification, your doctor may prescribe medication that’s safe for you and your baby to lower your blood sugar level.
GD after pregnancy
The question I had back then was, are there chances of gestational diabetes not going away after giving birth, considering my family history? Fortunately, my blood sugar level went back to its normal range within 6 weeks after birth. And this is also the case for most new moms who have been diagnosed with gestational diabetes. You cannot reverse gestational diabetes during pregnancy, but the good news is that your blood sugar level goes back to normal upon giving birth.
It’s also very crucial to know that gestational diabetes can recur. There is a 35% chance of having GD in your next pregnancy. The risk of recurrence is higher due to your weight gain in between the pregnancies, age, and the number of times you have been pregnant. You should maintain a healthy lifestyle even after giving birth, especially if you plan to have another baby soon or if you simply want to be healthier for your family.
Despite the lifestyle changes, I was diagnosed with GD for the 2nd time during my 3rd pregnancy. But I was ready to follow my gestational diabetes care plan as early as my 1st trimester. It wasn’t as difficult as the 1st time, perhaps because I knew better and took the necessary steps to ensure that everything will be right on track.
Gestational diabetes truly made an impact on my life during and after my 2 pregnancies. It made me realize that while I should enjoy carrying my baby to term, I must always be cautious because everything I do will affect my child. Sometimes I wonder whether my GD was a wake-up call for me to take much better care of my body. After all, whether I’m pregnant or not, I still have the responsibility of raising healthy and responsible children.