What is Gestational Diabetes?

Gestational diabetes (also known as gestational diabetes mellitus or GDM) is defined as a condition found in women who exhibit high blood sugar levels during their pregnancy. GDM has few symptoms and is diagnosed by a simple blood screening required by your OB at or around your 24th week of pregnancy.

A blood test will detect any abnormal increase in your glucose levels. GDM affects between 3-5% of pregnancies and develops around the second trimester between 24 and 28 weeks and typically goes away following delivery.

It is important to note no specific cause has been identified, however medical specialists believe hormones produced during pregnancy interfere with the ability of insulin to manage blood sugar.

Under normal circumstances, the stomach and intestines digest carbohydrates in the foods we eat and turn them into a sugar called glucose. After digestion, glucose is released into the blood stream, becoming a potential energy source for the entire body. In order for glucose to efficiently leave the bloodstream and be changed into energy, insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas, is necessary.

If your pancreas cannot increase insulin production to counteract the increased level of hormones produced when pregnant, blood sugar levels will rise which means you have gestational diabetes. When someone has diabetes, their body is either not making enough insulin or their cells cannot use it the way they should, causing hyperglycemia, which is a build-up of high glucose levels in the blood.

Although the actual cause of GDM is not yet known, it begins when your body is not able to make and use all of the insulin it needs for pregnancy.

Women with GDM usually produce plenty of insulin. However, the effect of the insulin is partially blocked by other hormones made in the placenta, a condition known as insulin resistance.

In some pregnant women, the pancreas is unable to make the additional insulin to overcome this resistance, resulting in gestational diabetes.

Following Delivery and your future healthcare

Most women with gestational diabetes, will see blood sugar levels return to normal shortly after the baby is born; however, there is a chance GDM may return in future pregnancies. In addition, a relationship seems to exist between women who did have GDM and the development of type 2 diabetes. It is important for women with gestational diabetes to talk with their health care providers about their future risk of diabetes. Often, basic lifestyle changes, combined with consistent medical care may help to prevent type 2 diabetes from developing later down the road.

Symptoms of Gestational Diabetes

Most women with gestational diabetes do not experience noticeable symptoms and are unaware that they have the condition until they are tested. Because symptoms can go unrecognized and women who develop gestational diabetes usually have normal blood sugar levels during the first trimester, it is important that all pregnant women are screened for gestational diabetes between the 24th and 28th weeks of their pregnancy. Some women with gestat