Gestational diabetes can make pregnancy risky

Expectant mothers need support managing gestational diabetes during pregnancy.

Beth, 29, was thrilled to learn she was pregnant with her first child. But her excitement turned to fear when she was diagnosed with gestational diabetes.

Although Beth didn’t have diabetes before, she had developed it during pregnancy.

What causes gestational diabetes?

Gestational diabetes starts when the body is not able to make and use all the insulin it needs for pregnancy. Without enough insulin, glucose cannot leave the blood and be changed to energy. Glucose builds up in the blood to high levels.

According to the American Diabetes Association, more women in the U.S. are developing gestational diabetes. About 6 percent to 8 percent of pregnant women are diagnosed every year.

Risks of gestational diabetes

Women with gestational diabetes are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes later in life. The disease also can be harmful to the unborn child. According to Jennifer R. Willis, APRN, with Norton Children’s Maternal-Fetal Medicine, if left uncontrolled, high blood sugar can cause pregnancy risks, including rapid growth of the fetus and delivery complications.

“To avoid that, expectant mothers may be seen by both a maternal-fetal medicine specialist as well as an obstetrician throughout their pregnancy,” Jennifer said. “A team approach can result in the best care possible.”

Jamil T. Elfarra, M.D., maternal-fetal medicine specialist with Norton Children’s Maternal-Fetal Medicine, agreed.

How gestational diabetes affects the baby

Norton Children’s Maternal-Fetal Medicine Diabetes and Pregnancy Center

Maternal-fetal medicine specialists have the experience and expertise to treat the unique needs of pregnant women with pre-existing diabetes or gestational diabetes.

A board-certified dietitian and diabetes educators are available to help patients learn more about managing blood sugar through nutritional changes and other lifestyle changes.

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“Untreated or poorly controlled gestational diabetes can harm your baby,” Dr. Elfarra said. “When you have gestational diabetes, your pancreas works overtime to produce insulin, but the insulin does not adequately lower your blood glucose levels. Extra blood glucose goes through the placenta, giving the baby high blood glucose levels. Since the baby is getting more energy than it needs from the high amount of blood glucose, the extra energy is stored as fat.”

The baby’s pancreas then makes extra insulin to get rid of the unneeded blood glucose. This creates a risk of the newborn experiencing low blood sugar levels after birth. Blood sugar from the mother has been taken away, but the baby is still producing insulin at roughly the same rate as it was while in the uterus.

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