Metabolic Health

Gestational Diabetes - Know The Causes & Symptoms

Reviewed by

Shifa Fathima

Gestational Diabetes: Causes, Symptoms, And Much More

Gestational diabetes is one of the types of diabetes that a woman develops during her pregnancy. It is also the first time that diabetes has been diagnosed. Though it is a temporary stage, it is crucial to get tested and treated as it can affect the health of the mother and baby. Like in other diabetes, the blood sugar level shoots up in gestational diabetes. The good news is that the blood sugar level returns to normal after delivering the baby. 

Causes of Gestational Diabetes

In any kind of diabetes, the body’s ability to produce insulin is hampered, thus producing lower insulin levels. The pancreas is responsible for producing insulin. Insulin plays a crucial role in allowing blood sugar to enter cells and tissues to produce energy for functional activities. During pregnancy, many changes occur in the mother’s body–physical, mental, emotional, hormonal, etc. Hormonal changes result in weight gain. Due to a larger tissue mass in the body, the insulin produced is not sufficient, and a condition called insulin resistance develops. Most women show signs of insulin resistance around the last trimester. Women who have insulin resistance before getting pregnant have higher chances of developing gestational diabetes right from the early days of pregnancy. Sometimes, gestational diabetes may develop into type 2 diabetes, so it is important to get tested and treated for gestational diabetes. It is generally a good practice to keep checking your blood sugar levels so that if symptoms arise, they can be treated from the initial stages. 

Symptoms and Risk Factors of Gestational Diabetes

Typically, gestational diabetes does not have any specific symptoms. It can vary from person to person, depending on medical history and potential risk factors. Generally, being obese or overweight could be a risk factor for gestational diabetes. If there has been an episode of gestational diabetes during the first pregnancy, it could cause concern for a subsequent pregnancy. A lack of physical activity may trigger gestational diabetes. Genes play an important role–if an immediate family member has had gestational diabetes, one must be aware and watch for signs. If the baby delivered earlier weighed over 4 pounds or 4.1 kg, it is important to get tested for gestational diabetes during the subsequent pregnancy. Premature delivery could also cause gestational diabetes during the next pregnancy. If the mother has had a history of low blood sugar, that is one of the major risk factors. 

The test for gestational diabetes is generally done between the 24th and 28th weeks of pregnancy. If there are other risk factors and higher chances of having gestational diabetes, the doctor advises the test earlier in the pregnancy to avoid complications. Sometimes, during the early stages of pregnancy, if the blood sugar level is higher, it may indicate that instead of pregnancy diabetes, it could be type 1 or type 2 diabetes

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How to Control Gestational Diabetes

The general preventive measures that can be taken to prevent and control gestational diabetes are to stay physically active. It is important to exercise regularly for overall health. Meals must not be skipped as insulin production is hampered. Before getting pregnant, it is helpful to consult the gynaecologist to understand if there are any risk factors involved and precautions that can be taken to avoid gestational diabetes. It is also important to take prenatal vitamins as prescribed to control the effect of hormonal changes and other risks. 

Ideally, blood sugar levels must be tested every year so that the onset of any kind of diabetes will ensure early detection, diagnosis, and treatment. Follow a balanced diet so that the body gets all the required nutrients in the right quantity. Regular physical activity goes a long way in preventing and controlling gestational diabetes. Activities such as using the stairs, brisk walking, basic exercises, and stretches help keep diabetes at bay. The doctor monitors the baby’s and mother’s health during the pregnancy to prevent complications. 

Nutritional Recommendations For Gestational Diabetes

A balanced diet plays an important role in preventing and controlling all kinds of diabetes. In many cases, gestational diabetes can be controlled with just a proper diet and without medication. Each case of gestational diabetes is unique–some may require medication while some do not. By consuming a balanced diet, blood sugar levels can be checked. When the meal contains the right quantity of carbohydrate and sugar components, blood sugar levels can be easily regulated. Check with a dietician to get a personalised meal plan for best results. 

What to eat with gestational diabetes

  • Lean proteins: Lean proteins are the major components required for muscle growth and development of the baby. Lean proteins include lean meats such as chicken, fish, turkey, eggs, and low-fat dairy products. It is important to have proteins with every meal during the day, but the majority of the protein allowance should be consumed with breakfast. It can be helpful to reduce and prevent morning sickness. 
  • Non Starchy vegetables: Non Starchy vegetables are rich in micronutrients, fibre, and roughage. They are also called “freebie foods'' as they satiate hunger without adding much to the calorie count. Some non starchy vegetables are broccoli, cucumber, green beans, onions, peppers, and green salads. 
  • Healthy fats: avocado, nuts, seeds, olive oil, nut butter, etc. 
  • Complex carbohydrates: Beans, whole-wheat bread, berries, sweet potato, brown rice, and yoghurt. 
  • It is best to avoid sugary beverages and processed foods. 

Bottomline

Gestational diabetes is a common occurrence during pregnancy. In any kind of diabetes, the body’s ability to produce insulin is hampered, thus producing lower insulin levels. The pancreas is responsible for producing insulin. Insulin plays a crucial role in allowing blood sugar to enter cells and tissues to produce energy for functional activities. There are various risk factors involved. The most common risk factors are obesity, prior diabetic symptoms, physical inactivity, etc. Being active, exercising frequently, and having a balanced gestational diabetes diet help prevent and control gestational diabetes. Consume a balanced diet rich in lean proteins, non starchy vegetables, healthy fats, complex carbohydrates. Also read how diabetes insipidus causes.

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