The What and Why of Gestational Diabetes


Your pregnancy is going well. You made it through your first trimester and you’re feeling good. Your energy is up and you’re excited about your baby. And then… between weeks 24 and 28 you’re tested for gestational diabetes and you fail! This is something you didn’t expect. You’ve been eating well and doing everything you were told to have a healthy baby. So why are you testing positive for GD? Diabetes doesn’t even run in your family. You just don’t get it and you’re very upset. Is there something you could have done differently? Probably not.

To put this diagnoses into perspective, it helps to understand exactly what diabetes is. Quite simply put, it is when there’s too much sugar (glucose) in the blood. Most of the foods we eat turn into glucose which our bodies use for energy. The pancreas produces a hormone called insulin which regulates glucose, making sure it gets into every cell of the body. In the case of diabetes, the body is either not making enough insulin or the insulin it is making is not being used efficiently. This causes glucose (sugar) to build up in the blood and this causes diabetes.

Gestational Diabetes is diabetes that occurs during pregnancy. One of two conditions happen:

  1. Diabetes first develops during pregnancy.

  2. Diabetes is first diagnosed during pregnancy.

If diabetes first develops during pregnancy, it occurs because your body can’t produce the extra insulin needed during pregnancy. You are gaining weight as your baby grows and the placenta is producing various hormones which may cause your cells not to respond to insulin. This is known as insulin resistance. Simply put, the cells in your body aren’t taking the sugar from your blood. Most pregnant women have some insulin resistance late in pregnancy. This is why pregnant women are tested for GD between weeks 24 and 28. Many women ca still produce enough insulin to make up for this insulin resistance. When she can no longer produce enough insulin is when she has developed gestational diabetes.

Some women may unknowingly have diabetes and it is first diagnosed during pregnancy.

In either case gestational diabetes is serious and needs to be controlled. This can be done through diet and lifestyle changes and medication or with a combination of these.

Some of the possible consequences of gestational diabetes are:

  • Giving birth to a very large baby which can cause problems during birth and may require a C-section.

  • High blood sugar may increase the risk of preterm labor and delivery. Babies born prematurely often develop respiratory problems and need help breathing.

  • Sometimes babies born to mothers with GD will develop low blood sugar shortly after birth.

  • Babies born to mothers with GD have a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes later in life.

If you get a diagnoses of GD the first thing you want to consider is your diet. This is something you can control and it may keep you of of medication. Your diet needs to be low in foods that will raise your blood sugar. These are generally starchy carbs and fruits, although it could be any food. Every woman is different, and foods will affect everyone differently. One woman may do well with rice but pasta causes a spike in blood sugar. It is important to keep a food diary and look for patterns. I suggest my clients “eat to the meter.” By this I mean you should adjust your food based on your glucose readings. Eat more of the foods that don’t cause a fluctuation in blood sugar and eliminate those that cause your reading to be elevated.

Exercise is also important in controlling GD. It can reduce fasting blood sugar which is the hardest to control. Pregnant women should get a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise a day.

Being pregnant and preparing for baby can be stressful. Add to that a diagnoses of GD and you can feel overwhelmingly stressed. This isn’t good. Stress raises blood sugar levels. It’s important to identify what is causing stress in your life and do whatever you can to lower it. Some suggestions for lowering stress are:

  • Breathing and mediation

  • Getting sufficient sleep

  • Delegating tasks at home and at work

  • Taking time for yourself

I hope this was helpful. If you need help navigating GD I offer a gestational diabetes program. Please share this with anyone you know who is dealing with gestational diabetes.