Gestational diabetes, otherwise known as pregnancy diabetes, occurs in three to five percent of pregnancies according to Diabetes UK. It occurs when you have high blood sugar because your body can’t produce enough insulin to meet your extra needs during pregnancy, and can cause problems for mums and babies during the pregnancy and after birth, but the risks can be significantly reduced if the condition is detected early and well managed.
What are the signs of gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes symptoms can develop at any time during pregnancy, but they are most common in the second or third trimester. Some of the most common pregnancy diabetes symptoms include:
- Increased thirst
- Needing to pee more often
- A dry mouth
However, many of these symptoms are common during pregnancy and not necessarily only a sign of gestational diabetes. The condition is most often discovered when your blood sugar levels are tested during pregnancy.
Always speak to your GP or midwife if you are concerned about any symptoms you may be experiencing.
Who is at risk of developing gestational diabetes?
There are several factors that may increase your risk of developing gestational diabetes, including a BMI above 30, experiencing gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy or if you previously gave birth to a baby weighing 4.5kg (10lb) or more.
Other risk factors include if one of your parents or siblings has diabetes, and if you are of south Asian, Black, African-Caribbean or Middle Eastern origin.
What does the gestational diabetes test involve?
Early on in your pregnancy, at your first antenatal appointment, your midwife will ask questions to determine whether you are at increased risk of developing gestational diabetes. You should be offered a screening test – the oral glucose tolerance test – if you have one or more risk factors.
The glucose tolerance test takes about two hours, and involves having a blood test first thing in the morning before you have had any food or drink, then consuming a glucose drink. Another blood sample is then taken two hours later to determine how your body is coping with the glucose.
It typically takes place between weeks 24 and 28 of pregnancy.
Is there a recommended gestational diabetes diet?
A healthy diet can significantly reduce the risk of problems during your pregnancy if you have gestational diabetes. You should be referred to a dietician who can help to provide guidance on preparing balanced meals to control your blood sugar levels.
A gestational diabetes diet should typically involve three meals a day, with at least five portions of fruit and vegetables, lean sources of protein and starchy and low GI carbohydrates such as wholewheat pasta, brown rice, pulses, beans and lentils, which release energy slowly and avoid spikes in your blood sugar.
You should try to avoid sugary foods and drinks as much as possible too.
What are the treatments for gestational diabetes?
After diagnosis you will be given a testing kit that you can use to check your blood sugar levels at home. Initially, you will be advised to follow a gestational diabetes diet and moderate exercise plan to manage your symptoms and regulate your blood sugar. However, if these changes haven’t helped after one to two weeks, you may be given medicine such as metformin tablets or insulin injections.
The information on this page isn’t intended to replace medical advice. Always seek help from your GP or a medical practitioner if you’re concerned about your health.