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Gestational Diabetes

Did you know that if you have previously been diagnosed with Gestational Diabetes, you are at an increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes?

Programme Overview

Approximately 1 in 2 people who have had Gestational Diabetes will go on to develop Type 2 diabetes within the next 5-10 years. The good news is that there are lots of small changes you can make to prevent diabetes from developing in the first place.

If you have a previous history of or currently have Gestational Diabetes, you may be eligible for your local Healthier You service. This programme will help you take control of your health by supporting you to make changes to your lifestyle, diet and physical activity; all designed to reduce your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.

Sign up for the NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme
  • Aged 18 years and over
  • Do not have Type 2 diabetes
  • Have a previous history of or currently have Gestational Diabetes

What is Gestational Diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that develops during pregnancy. It is characterised by high blood sugar levels that occur in people who didn’t have diabetes before becoming pregnant.

During pregnancy, the placenta produces hormones that can lead to a buildup of glucose in the blood, and sometimes the body can’t produce enough insulin to handle this increased glucose.

Causes and Risk Factors

Gestational diabetes is believed to occur due to a combination of factors. During pregnancy, the placenta produces hormones that can interfere with the way insulin works. Insulin is a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar levels. As the placenta grows larger during pregnancy, it can produce increasing amounts of these hormones, leading to a resistance to insulin’s action in the body.

When this insulin resistance occurs, the body may not be able to produce enough additional insulin to counteract it, resulting in high levels of glucose in the blood, leading to gestational diabetes.

Several risk factors can increase the likelihood of developing gestational diabetes, including:

  1. Family history
  2. Living with obesity or overweight
  3. Previous gestational diabetes
  4. Age
  5. Ethnicity

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Gestational diabetes often doesn’t present with noticeable symptoms. This is why screening for diabetes during pregnancy is a routine part of prenatal care. However, some people may experience symptoms which are similar to those of other types of diabetes. These symptoms might include:

  1. Increased thirst:
  2. Frequent urination
  3. Fatigue
  4. Blurred vision

It’s important to note that many of these symptoms can be common during pregnancy due to hormonal changes and other factors. Because gestational diabetes often doesn’t cause noticeable symptoms, it’s diagnosed through routine screening. Healthcare providers typically perform glucose screening tests between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy to check for elevated blood sugar levels.

Treatment and Management

The management and treatment of gestational diabetes primarily involves controlling blood sugar levels to ensure a healthy pregnancy for both the mother and the baby. Treatment approaches often include:

  • Dietary changes
  • Regular exercise
  • Monitoring blood sugar levels
  • Insulin or medication
  • Regular prenatal check-ups

It’s essential to follow the healthcare provider’s recommendations closely and maintain open communication to ensure the best possible outcomes for both the mother and the baby. Effective management of gestational diabetes significantly reduces the risk of complications during pregnancy and childbirth.

Complications and Risks

Gestational diabetes, when not properly managed, can lead to various complications. However, with adequate care and management, many of these risks can be minimized. Some of the potential complications include:

Pre-eclampsia: Gestational diabetes can increase the risk of developing high blood pressure and preeclampsia during pregnancy.

Higher risk of caesarean delivery: Due to concerns about the baby’s size or other complications, people with gestational diabetes might be more likely to have a caesarean section.

Future risk of diabetes: People who have had gestational diabetes have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

Complications for the Baby:

Macrosomia: Babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes might grow larger than usual, which can lead to complications during delivery. This condition is called macrosomia.

Hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar): After birth, babies might have low blood sugar levels as their bodies continue to produce high levels of insulin due to exposure to high blood sugar in the womb.

Respiratory issues: Babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes might develop breathing problems.

Risk of overweight or obesity and type 2 diabetes: Babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes have a higher risk of living with overweight or obesity and developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

Jaundice: After birth, babies may have yellowing skin and eyes.

How to reduce the risk of Gestational Diabetes

While there’s no guaranteed way to completely prevent gestational diabetes, certain lifestyle changes can significantly reduce the risk. Here are some measures that may help in lowering the risk of developing gestational diabetes:

  • Healthy eating
  • Regular excercise
  • Prenatal care
  • Manage stress
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Quit smoking and avoid alcohol

It’s important to note that some risk factors for gestational diabetes, such as family history or genetic predisposition, cannot be altered. However, maintaining a healthy lifestyle can significantly reduce the risk. If you have concerns about gestational diabetes or any other health issues during pregnancy, it’s crucial to discuss them with your healthcare provider for appropriate guidance and monitoring.

Support and Community

There are various sources of support available for people diagnosed with gestational diabetes. Here are several places where you can find support and information:

Support Groups: Many hospitals or community centres offer support groups for people diagnosed with gestational diabetes. These groups can provide emotional support, information sharing, and a sense of community with others going through similar experiences.

Online Forums and Communities: Websites and forums dedicated to pregnancy, diabetes, or specific gestational diabetes groups can provide a platform for sharing experiences, asking questions, and finding support from other people in similar situations.

Health Apps: Some health apps cater specifically to pregnancy and gestational diabetes management. These apps often offer tracking tools, reminders, and educational resources.

Postnatal Care

Postpartum care for people who have gestational diabetes is crucial to monitor their health and reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future. Here are some key aspects of postpartum care for people who have gestational diabetes:

Follow-up testing: After delivery, it’s important to have a follow-up glucose test to ensure blood sugar levels have returned to normal. This test is usually done around 6-12 weeks after giving birth.

Healthy lifestyle: Continuing healthy habits developed during pregnancy is essential. This includes a balanced diet, regular exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight.

Diabetes screening: Because people who have had gestational diabetes have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life, regular diabetes screenings are recommended. This might involve glucose tests at least every 1-3 years or as advised by your healthcare provider.

Breastfeeding: If possible, breastfeeding can help with postpartum health. It can assist in weight loss and may reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Regular check-ups: Attend regular postpartum check-ups with your healthcare provider. These visits are essential for monitoring overall health, including blood pressure, weight, and blood glucose levels.

Support and counselling: Discuss any concerns, emotional challenges, or lifestyle adjustments with your healthcare provider. Support and counselling can be beneficial in dealing with potential stress or anxiety related to postpartum care and future diabetes risks.

Frequently asked questions

What causes gestational diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is caused by hormonal changes during pregnancy, leading to insulin resistance, where the body cannot produce enough insulin to counteract increased blood sugar levels.

How is gestational diabetes diagnosed?

It’s diagnosed through routine screening, usually between the 24th and 28th week of pregnancy. A glucose screening test involves drinking a sugary solution and then having blood drawn to measure blood sugar levels.

Can gestational diabetes harm my baby?

Uncontrolled gestational diabetes can lead to complications such as macrosomia (large birth weight), low blood sugar in the baby, premature birth, and an increased risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes in the child, which is why it is important to attend regular appointments with your healthcare provider.

How is gestational diabetes managed?

Management involves dietary changes, regular exercise, blood sugar monitoring, and in some cases, insulin or other medications to control blood sugar levels.

Will gestational diabetes go away after pregnancy?

Gestational diabetes often resolves after giving birth, but people who have had it are at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

Can gestational diabetes be prevented?

While some risk factors, such as family history, can’t be changed, maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet, staying active, and getting proper prenatal care can help reduce the risk.

How often should I check my blood sugar levels with gestational diabetes?

This is usually determined by your healthcare provider, but generally, it involves checking fasting blood sugar levels in the morning and after meals to ensure they’re within the target range.