Pregnant women who have never had diabetes before but who have high blood (sugar) levels during pregnancy are said to have gestational diabetes.
According to a 2014 analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of gestational diabetes is as high as 9.2%.
Women who are obese or who've had gestational diabetes in their previous pregnancy or have a strong family history of diabetes are said to be at a higher risk of developing gestational diabetes.
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Untreated or poorly controlled gestational diabetes can be harmful to the foetus. When one has gestational diabetes, the pancreas works overtime to produce insulin, but the insulin becomes ineffective.
Although insulin does not cross the placenta, glucose and other nutrients do. Hence, extra blood glucose goes through the placenta, giving the baby high blood glucose levels.
This causes the baby's pancreas to make extra insulin to get rid of the blood glucose. Since the baby gets more energy than what he/she requires to grow and develop, the extra energy gets stored as fat and thus the baby puts on weight and this increases the risk of early labour.
Babies with macrosomia (heavy weight) face health problems of their own, including damage to their shoulders during birth.
Because of the extra insulin made by the baby's pancreas, low blood glucose levels at birth may be caused and this may put the newborn at a higher risk for breathing problems.
Babies with excess insulin become children who are at risk for obesity, and after they grow up, they may be under the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Gestational diabetes raises the risk of high blood pressure in women who are also at a high risk of developing diabetes during future pregnancy and are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes when they get older.
But this can be avoided with a healthy lifestyle that includes a healthy food diet following regular exercises.
At times, insulin is required to control the blood sugar level. Insulin use in pregnancy is perfectly safe for the baby.
Regular exercise and daily blood sugar checks are mandatory in women with gestational diabetes. Therefore, it is advisable to get blood sugar checks done about every 8 weeks once after delivery too.
M.D. (Obstetrics and Gynecology)
Dr. Anita is working as a consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at the Fortis Hospital, Bangalore.