Diabetes in Pregnancy – What To Expect

Diabetes in pregnancy is known as Gestational Diabetes. It currently affects around 3 percent of pregnant women. Early detection and correct treatment can control the condition and is likely to prevent further problems in the pregnancy.

What Is It?

Gestational Diabetes is where the pregnant woman's body is not able to produce enough of the hormone Insulin. This means that her body is not able to break down the sugar that she consumes and convert it to energy. Therefore her blood sugar levels will be high and this will be passed on to the baby, which can cause problems.

Who Can Get It?

The pregnant women most likely to be affected will fit the following criteria;

o Overweight

o Age 35 plus

o Family history of diabetes

o Previous given birth to a large baby

o Previous given birth to a baby with an abnormality

o Suffered a stillbirth in late pregnancy

What Are The Symptoms?

Unfortunately the symptoms associated with Gestational Diabetes are common among most pregnancies anyway. You are likely to feel the need to urinate more often, will be more thirsty, more hungry and have a craving for sweet things. Most women discover they have it from a routine visit to the doctor where a urine sample will show glucose present in your urine. Gestational Diabetes is usually detected in later pregnancy.

If your urine sample does show glucose is present, this does not necessarily mean you have diabetes. Your doctor may want to repeat the test the following week. If, after two urine samples, your doctor is concerned he will refer you to the hospital for a blood glucose test. You will be advised not to eat anything from 10pm the night before the test. The nurse will take a sample of blood from you and then ask you to drink a very sweet solution. Two hours later she will take another blood sample from you and check your blood sugar levels in comparison to the first blood test. If the levels are above a certain amount this indicates you have diabetes. If this is the case the hospital will probably contact you that day in order to begin your treatment as soon as possible.

I've Got It – What Can I Expect?

Firstly – do not panic! It has been detected so early treatment will most likely prevent any major problems. The hospital will refer you to a Diabetic Nurse who will weigh you, ask you lots of questions about your diet and have a chat with you about how to improve your diet. Depending on the results of your blood test the hospital will most likely try to treat your diabetes by controlling your sugar intake. A diabetic diet closely follows a low GI diet, which is low in sugar. When buying or preparing food you need to take notice of the carbohydrate section on the breakdown of nutrients. The bit you are most interested in is 'Carbohydrates (of which sugars)'; you need to try to keep your carbohydrates down to no more than 5 grams in 100 grams. This is very difficult to do, as even the plainest foods seem to contain sugar. The nurse will provide you with a kit consisting of a blood sugar monitor and a notebook. You will be required to measure your blood sugar before and after each meal to determine how different foods affect your blood sugar levels. This method of monitoring will continue until you give birth, however the nurse will monitor these results to see if further treatment is necessary.

Unfortunately in some pregnant women changing the diet has little or no affect on the blood sugar levels and insulin injections are required. Injecting with insulin is no fun but is necessary if you are to prevent any further problems in your pregnancy. However you must still control your sugar intake. Injections are self-administered before meals in the upper thigh.

What Are The Effects Of Diabetes On My Baby?

Babies born to mothers with diabetes are generally larger than average. This can lead to problems with delivery and quite often a caesarean section is necessary.

After the birth there can still be complications for the baby. They are often born with low blood sugar levels and may have to go into the Special Care Unit until their blood sugar levels return to normal. This may involve them having a glucose feed to bring them up to normal levels as quickly as possible.

They may also suffer with jaundice but this is not serious and usually rectifies itself within a few weeks without medical intervention.

There is an increased risk that your baby may be born with a congenital defect such as a heart defect or have problems with their lungs. You will have many more ultrasound scans than a normal pregnancy and the hospital will be looking for signs of defects in order to treat them where possible.

Unfortunately there is also the increased risk of stillbirth or death of a newborn even though this is rare where glucose levels are well managed.

What Are The Effects Of Diabetes On Me?

After the birth Gestational Diabetes usually completely disappears. However you will be at greater risk of developing it in future pregnancies and also of developing type 2 diabetes in later life.Many women take this as a warning and choose to change their diet and take more exercise in the hope of avoiding type 2 diabetes in later life.