Approximately 12 to 14 percent of pregnant women will develop gestational diabetes, a statistic that Diabetes Australia spokesperson Cheryl Steele says is growing. While the diagnosis can undoubtedly be a stressful and upsetting experience, it’s important to know that gestational diabetes is manageable and when done so properly, a majority of mums have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.
We spoke to Diabetes Australia spokesperson Cheryl Steele to find out everything mums-to-be need to know about gestational diabetes.
What exactly is gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that develops during pregnancy, often around the 24 to 28 week mark.
“Usually gestational diabetes is developed during the last trimester of the pregnancy, so as the pregnancy becomes advanced, the demand of the baby becomes higher of course because its growing,” Cheryl explains. “It’s often at that point when the mum can’t produce enough insulin to keep her sugars normal and that’s when diabetes will develop.”
Most women will no longer have diabetes after the baby is born.
Who is most at risk of developing gestational diabetes?
There are a number of factors that can influence the likelihood of developing gestational diabetes. They include:
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Melanesian, Polynesian, Chinese, Southeast Asian, Middle Eastern or Indian background
- Family history of type 2 diabetes
- Previous history of gestational diabetes
- Weight above healthy range
- Rapid weight gain in the first half of pregnancy
What are the common symptoms of gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is often picked up during your regular pregnancy check ups and in most cases there are few signs.
However, Cheryl says that if you have developed gestational diabetes and it’s not well controlled you may notice symptoms similar to other forms of diabetes like excessive thirst, frequent urination and fatigue.
“Sometimes it’s easily missed because when you’re pregnant and a little baby is stepping on your bladder you’ll feel like you need to be weeing more often anyway,” Cheryl says. “Also feeling very tired, sometimes just being pregnant makes you feel very tired.”
What does treatment involve?
Each woman diagnosed with gestational diabetes is taught how to regularly monitor their blood sugar levels and keep it in the target range. Gestational diabetes will often be managed with a healthy diet and regular exercise, however some women may need medication to treat it.
What are the risks if gestational diabetes is not addressed properly?
“Every single woman in Australia is tested for gestational diabetes to make sure we don’t miss anybody,” Cheryl says.
However, if gestational diabetes is not correctly managed it can result in a large baby, miscarriage and stillbirth. High blood sugar can also put mums at greater risk of infections.
Can you prevent gestational diabetes?
“Absolutely,” Cheryl says. “If you can keep your weight in a healthy range, if you can keep active – obviously next excessively when you’re pregnant but just regular exercise can help you – and having a healthy diet will help you from developing gestational diabetes.”
Cheryl also recommends talking to your doctor about your health before you plan to get pregnant.
“I think it would be wonderful for women in that child bearing age group just to visit their GP and discuss when they plan on having babies and how to get healthy before you get pregnant,” Cheryl explains. “Rather than trying to address the issues after you’re already pregnant. It would be great to be able to put things in place, so that you know, if you were at risk of these things, they can be addressed before they are actually pregnant.”
For more information about gestational diabetes speak to your GP or contact Diabetes Australia on their support hotline: 1300 136 588.