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Six percent of pregnant women in the U.S. develop gestational diabetes

By Ask the OB/GYN  |  3/10/2015

Having a baby should be one of the happiest times in a woman’s life, but imagine being pregnant and struggling to remain calm as your blood-glucose levels inch higher and higher. Being diagnosed with gestational diabetes can be alarming, but Dr. Jed Turk, a board-certified obstetrician and gynecologist at Health Quest Medical Practice, knows your diagnosis doesn’t mean your pregnancy won’t progress normally, nor does it mean your baby will be unhealthy.

What’s the difference?

It’s important to keep in mind that gestational diabetes is very different from type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes (or juvenile diabetes) occurs when the body's immune system destroys the cells that release insulin. In type 2 diabetes, the body is resistant to the insulin it produces. However, gestational diabetes only occurs in pregnant women due to hormonal changes. “For expecting moms, hormones from the placenta can make the body less responsive to insulin causing sugar intolerance,” says Dr. Turk. When the expecting mother’s body can’t keep up with the demand for insulin, she develops gestational diabetes.

Am I at risk?

Gestational diabetes can strike any pregnant woman and it usually develops in the second trimester. “It’s very important to be tested for gestational diabetes,” says Dr. Turk. “Patients hate the test because they have to drink and unpleasant tasting syrup, but the test is extremely important.” According to current estimates by the American Diabetes Association, six percent of pregnant women in the U.S. develop gestational diabetes. “Obesity, a history of glucose intolerance, previous gestational diabetes, and multiple births are major risk factors for gestational diabetes,” says Dr. Turk. Other risk factors include high blood pressure, excess amniotic fluid, history of unexplained miscarriage or stillbirth, and having glycosuria (sugar in your urine) before or during pregnancy. According to Dr. Turk, “your health care provider will test your blood sugar early in the pregnancy, and then retest between week 24 and 28.”

Can I still have a healthy pregnancy?

“The key to having a healthy pregnancy is to maintain your ideal body weight prior to pregnancy,” says Dr. Turk; “However, there is no way to guarantee that a women will not develop gestational diabetes.” To maximize the potential of a healthy pregnancy, women along with their physician should create a pregnancy plan that will prepare them mentally, physically, and emotionally for pregnancy. Women should also have their blood sugar tested three months prior to pregnancy to make sure they are within normal range. “If women manage their gestational diabetes (either by diet or medication), they can still deliver a healthy baby," says Dr. Turk. “But it is imperative that the expecting mother not cheat on her prescribed diet and that she takes the proper steps to managing the gestational diabetes.”

Will I always have diabetes? “Gestational diabetes is not strongly related to type 2 diabetes,” says Dr. Turk. “Usually a woman’s blood sugar levels will return to normal after giving birth, but women should keep an eye on their glucose levels after giving birth.” If your blood sugar is still high after giving birth, contact your primary care physician.

Jed Turk, Board Certified OBGYN, sees patients in Health Quest Medical Practice’s Poughkeepsie, Fishkill and New Paltz offices. He delivers at Vassar Brothers Medical Center and is certified in da Vinci® Robotic Surgery.

As seen in Hudson Valley Parent