Pregnant women are vulnerable to a type of diabetes called “gestational diabetes,” even if they have not been previously diagnosed. The condition doesn’t outlast the pregnancy, though it hightens the mother’s risk of type 2 diabetes later in life. Moreover, while it has no symptoms in the mother, it can complicate the delivery, and there is a risk of the baby being born jaundiced or with low blood sugar. Children born to mothers who had gestational diabetes are also more prone to obesity later in life.
The cause is unknown, but it may be due to placental hormones that induce insulin resistance in the mother, interfering with her body’s ability to use insulin to process glucose in the blood.
As with more familiar and common types of diabetes, risk factors include a family history of diabetes, being overweight or obese, and pre-diabetic conditions. In addition, women who have had gestational diabetes in previous pregnancies, or given birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds, are at risk. Risk also rises with age, starting as young as 25. A new study suggests that a diet high in animal fat can also be a contributing factor. In the study, women who made even a small change in their diets—even changing animal fats to plant oils—were seven percent less likely to experience gestational diabetes.
Gestational diabetes is asymptomatic, so if you plan to become pregnant, it’s important to lower your risk as best you can. If you are pregnant, get tested, and talk to your doctor about what you can do to have a healthy baby.