Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that can develop during pregnancy in women who do not already have diabetes. Gestational diabetes affects 2 to 10% of pregnancies in the United States each year. Treating gestational diabetes helps ensure you have a healthy pregnancy and baby.
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What causes gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes occurs when your body cannot make enough insulin during pregnancy. Insulin is a hormone made by your pancreas that acts like a key in getting blood sugar into your body's cells for use as energy.
During pregnancy, your body makes more hormones and goes through other changes, such as weight gain. These changes make your body cells use insulin less effectively, a condition known as insulin resistance. Insulin resistance increases your body's need for insulin.
All pregnant women have some insulin resistance during late pregnancy. However, some women become insulin resistant even before they become pregnant. You start a pregnancy with an increased need for insulin and have gestational diabetes more often.
Some women are at higher risk of gestational diabetes. Risk factors for gestational diabetes include the following:
- Overweight and obesity.
- A lack of physical activity.
- Previous gestational diabetes or prediabetes.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome.
- Diabetes in an immediate family member.
- Previously given birth to a baby weighing more than 4.1 kilograms.
- Ethnicity - Women of Black, Hispanic, Native American, and Asian ancestry are at higher risk of developing gestational diabetes.
Before you get pregnant, you can prevent gestational diabetes by losing weight if you are overweight and exercising regularly.
Do not try to lose weight if you are already pregnant. You need to gain some weight - but not too quickly - for your baby to be healthy. Talk to your doctor about how much weight you should gain for a healthy pregnancy.
Treatment of gestational diabetes
There is a lot you can do to manage gestational diabetes. Go to all of your prenatal appointments and follow your treatment plan, including:
- Check your blood sugar to make sure your levels stay in a healthy range.
- Eating healthy food in the right amounts at the right time. Follow a healthy eating plan created by your doctor or nutritionist.
- Be active. Regular, moderate-intensity physical activity (such as brisk walking) lowers your blood sugar and makes you more sensitive to insulin so your body doesn't need as much. Check with your doctor about the types of physical activity you can engage in and whether you should avoid them.
- Monitoring your baby. Your doctor will check your baby's growth and development.
If a healthy diet and exercise aren't enough to control your blood sugar, your doctor may prescribe insulin, metformin, or other medications.