Gestational diabetes is a condition that affects some pregnant women, causing high blood sugar levels. It occurs when the body is unable to produce enough insulin to compensate for the increased insulin resistance that happens during pregnancy.
Understanding blood glucose levels and managing gestational diabetes is important for the health of both mother and baby. This article will discuss normal blood sugar ranges in pregnancy, symptoms and risk factors for gestational diabetes, and how to monitor and manage blood glucose levels if you develop gestational diabetes.
What Is Gestational Diabetes?
Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) is characterized by high blood glucose levels that develop during pregnancy in women who did not previously have diabetes. It occurs when the body is unable to produce enough insulin to meet the increased demands of pregnancy.
Insulin is the hormone that allows glucose from foods to enter the cells to be used for energy. With GDM, glucose builds up in the blood instead of being absorbed by the cells. Gestational diabetes affects around 9.2-25.5% of pregnancies, depending on various risk factors.
Fortunately, gestational diabetes usually goes away after delivery, but it does increase the mother’s risk for type 2 diabetes later on. The baby is also at a higher risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes if gestational diabetes is not well-controlled.
Gestational Diabetes Symptoms
Often there are no noticeable symptoms for gestational diabetes. This is why routine blood glucose screening is recommended between 24-28 weeks of pregnancy.
Potential symptoms can include:
– Excessive thirst and frequent urination
– Blurred vision
– Infections that are hard to heal
– Nausea and vomiting
Signs of gestational diabetes in the baby can include above-average growth, excess amniotic fluid, and low blood sugar after birth. However, these signs may not always be present. Again, blood glucose testing is the best way to diagnose gestational diabetes.
Normal Blood Sugar Levels During Pregnancy
Normal blood sugar levels during pregnancy are lower than blood sugar values for women who are not pregnant. This is because pregnancy hormones can impact insulin sensitivity and increase glucose levels.
Here are the target blood glucose ranges in pregnancy:
Fasting blood sugar (first thing in the morning): 60-90 mg/dL
– 1 hour after meals: <140 mg/dL
– 2 hours after meals: <120 mg/dL
Blood sugar is checked more frequently when a woman is diagnosed with gestational diabetes to help maintain these optimal target ranges. Testing blood sugar 4 times per day (fasting plus after each meal) is common.
Gestational Diabetes Risk Factors
There are certain risk factors that can increase a woman’s chance of developing gestational diabetes during pregnancy:
▪️ Overweight or obese before pregnancy
▪️ Family history of type 2 diabetes
▪️ Previous gestational diabetes
▪️ Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
▪️ Older maternal age (>35 years old)
▪️ Excessive weight gain during pregnancy
▪️ High-risk ethnic backgrounds (Hispanic, African, Native American, Asian, Pacific Islander)
If you have any of these risk factors, make sure to discuss screening for gestational diabetes with your prenatal care provider early in pregnancy.
Gestational Diabetes Treatment
If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, the main treatment involves controlling blood sugar levels through lifestyle modifications. Testing blood sugar frequently with a glucometer and making dietary and exercise adjustments can help keep glucose in the target range. Other treatments may include:
➡️Taking insulin to boost insulin supply if diet and exercise are not sufficient. There are several types of insulin that can be used safely during pregnancy.
➡️Oral diabetes medications – Not all are approved for pregnancy, but metformin and glyburide may be used.
➡️Regular fetal monitoring – To check on the baby’s growth and heart rate.
➡️Additional testing – For kidney function, preeclampsia, excess amniotic fluid, etc.
Controlling blood sugar effectively can help avoid complications like excess fetal growth, preterm delivery, hypertension, and preeclampsia.
Diet and Exercise for Gestational Diabetes
One of the keys to controlling gestational diabetes is making dietary changes to help keep blood sugar stable. Here are some healthy eating tips:
📌Eat small, frequent meals every 3-4 hours
📌Limit carbohydrates to 35-45% of daily calories
📌Choose high fiber, whole grain carbs (oatmeal, whole wheat bread)
📌Limit sugary beverages and desserts
📌Increase lean protein (eggs, fish, chicken, greek yogurt)
📌Pick non-starchy vegetables (broccoli, spinach, kale, tomatoes)
📌Drink water instead of juice
Along with dietary changes, exercising regularly can improve insulin sensitivity and help normalize blood glucose levels. Aim for 20-30 minutes per day of moderate activity like walking, swimming, or stationary cycling.
Check with your doctor before starting any new exercise routine during pregnancy. Staying active, eating healthy meals, and monitoring blood sugar levels will give you the best chance of controlling gestational diabetes.
Gestational diabetes is a common concern during pregnancy that requires close monitoring. While gestational diabetes often goes away after birth, it is linked to maternal and infant health complications if left unmanaged.
Work closely with your prenatal care team to control blood glucose within target ranges through lifestyle adjustments and medication if needed. With proper treatment, women with gestational diabetes can deliver healthy babies. Staying aware of all blood glucose levels and pursuing optimal nutrition and exercise habits are keys to success.
Frequently Asked Questions
Gestational diabetes is caused by the body’s inability to produce enough insulin to compensate for increased insulin resistance during pregnancy. The exact causes are not fully known, but placental hormones and other factors impair insulin function.
Gestational diabetes often shows no obvious symptoms. Routine blood glucose screening between 24-28 weeks of pregnancy can diagnose it. If you have risk factors, earlier screening may be done.
No, there is no need to monitor blood sugar levels if you do not have gestational diabetes. Normal blood sugar levels will be maintained by your body during pregnancy.
Uncontrolled gestational diabetes increases the risk of complications like excess fetal growth, early delivery, preeclampsia, and cesarean delivery. It can also cause high blood sugar in the baby after birth.
You are at a higher risk for type 2 diabetes after having gestational diabetes, but it’s not inevitable. Eating healthy, exercising, and maintaining a healthy weight can help prevent type 2 diabetes after pregnancy.