In general, your pancreas does a great job of balancing blood glucose, or sugar, by producing insulin. However, sometimes when you’re pregnant, your body works in a different way to benefit the growing baby. During pregnancy, the placenta creates an abundance of hormones that cause your body to resist insulin, also called insulin resistance, which makes it hard for the body to use insulin. Without enough insulin, glucose cannot be converted to energy when leaving the blood stream. This causes the pancreas to produce more insulin, sometimes three times the normal amount. If the body can’t keep up with the increased amount of insulin, the result is gestational diabetes.
According to the American Diabetes Association, gestational diabetes occurs when pregnant women who have never had diabetes experience high blood glucose levels during pregnancy. An analysis in 2014 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that the prevalence of gestational diabetes is as high as 9.2%. Women who are black, Hispanic, American Indian or Asian have a greater risk of developing gestational diabetes.
Most often your doctor will put in an order for you to have a glucose screening as general prenatal care. Please don’t worry. It is recommended that pregnant women between 24 and 28 weeks get screened for gestational diabetes. The test is simple. Either the doctor’s office or lab will give you a syrupy glucose drink. The drink contains approximately 50 grams of glucose and it tastes like flavored soda. You can have the choice of different flavors: orange, lime or cola. There are specific instructions that you need to follow which explains how to consume the drink and when to get your blood drawn at the lab. Basically, you will need to drink this within five minutes. Then, one hour later, you will have a blood sample taken to determine your blood sugar level. Your doctor will discuss the results with you. If the test comes back with an abnormal or high level, you will need to take a three-hour Glucose Tolerance Test. Once those results come back, the doctor will let you know if you have gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes is controlled with a specific diet. A dietician can help you plan your meals, teach you about physical fitness and you will also learn how to check your blood sugar.
If you are pregnant and experience unusual thirst, vaginal or bladder infections, frequent urination, blurred vision, or nausea you should let your doctor know. This can largely be controlled for the most part with diet and exercise and it generally resolves after pregnancy.