Gestational diabetes affects nearly 9.2% of pregnancies in the United States. There’s still a lot to learn about the condition, but here’s what experts know about why it occurs.
What is gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is another way to describe the presence of high blood sugar in pregnant women who, prior to pregnancy, didn’t have diabetes.
Why does gestational diabetes occur?
Healthcare professionals believe that gestational diabetes occurs because the placenta releases hormones that interfere with the mother’s insulin. The hormone insulin facilitates the body’s use of stored glucose (sugar) for energy. When a woman experiences insulin resistance as a result of gestational diabetes, her blood glucose builds up to unhealthy and dangerous levels in the body, and she experiences a significant drop in energy levels.
What makes gestational diabetes more likely to occur?
There are some risk factors that experts believe increase the likelihood of a woman developing gestational diabetes during pregnancy. In some cases, it’s unknown why these conditions put a woman at higher risk for GD. These risk factors are:
- Age: Pregnant women who are over the age of 25 are at a higher risk of developing gestational diabetes.
- A family or personal history of diabetes or gestational diabetes or insulin production problems: This includes women who have elevated blood sugar levels prior to getting pregnant, who have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), who have had gestational diabetes during a previous pregnancy, or who have a family member with type 2 diabetes.
- History: A previous pregnancy that resulted in miscarriage, stillbirth, or a baby weighing over 9 pounds.
- Pre-existing conditions: High blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, or a high BMI (usually 30 or higher).
- Race: Women who are black, Hispanic, Asian, or American Indian are statistically more likely to develop gestational diabetes.
Lowering one’s risk for gestational diabetes
For women who have had gestational diabetes during a previous pregnancy, or who are at higher risk of gestational diabetes, there are a few ways to reduce the chances of developing it. These suggestions cannot eliminate the possibility of gestational diabetes, but they can help lessen it.
- Weight loss: Women who weigh 20% over a healthy body weight can work to lose weight, which reduces their risk of gestational diabetes.
- Exercise: Regular exercise helps with weight loss and reduces blood sugar, insulin sensitivity, and rates of diabetes.
- Healthy eating: A balanced diet doesn’t drastically increase blood sugar, and the nutrients from whole foods help the body function at its best.
Gestational diabetes can have long-term effects for a mother and her baby, so you’ll definitely want to take certain measures to decrease your risk for the condition. Make sure to get routinely screened for the condition over the course of your pregnancy, and in the meantime, do your best to maintain nutritional and exercise habits that are healthcare-provider approved, to keep yourself healthy.
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- “What does insulin do?” Hormone. Endocrine Society, 2016. Web.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. “Gestational Diabetes: Symptoms.” MayoClinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, Apr 25 2014. Web.
- “Am I at risk for gestational diabetes?” NICHD. NIH Publication No. 12-4818. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health, Jun 2012. Web.
- Mayo Clinic Staff. “Gestational Diabetes: Treatments and drugs.” MayoClinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, Apr 25 2014.