Changes brought about by pregnancy have a significant impact on the way the body functions. Things that are altered include the shape and relative position of internal organs, hormone levels, the ways certain neurotransmitters function, and the kinds and amounts of certain chemicals in the bloodstream. One of these changes is the formation of the placenta, which produces hormones that can interfere with insulin receptors, leading to gestational diabetes.
Gestational diabetes occurs in about one in every ten pregnancies. It generally goes away after the pregnancy, though it does raise the risk of type 2 diabetes. However, gestational diabetes itself creates several risks during the pregnancy and for the fetus. People with gestational diabetes are more likely to suffer stillbirth or experience pre-term labor. Gestational diabetes is a risk factor for pre-eclampsia, and people with the condition often require Cesarian delivery.
Usually, diabetes only occurs late in the pregnancy, and presents with few or no symptoms. That’s why it is important for people who are pregnant to get screened for diabetes, which is in many cases the only way for the condition to be diagnosed. In fact, recommendations released yesterday called for screening to be done at 24 weeks in all pregnancies, or even earlier—early signs can sometimes be found by screening at just 13 weeks in.
Screening is particularly important for people with known risk factors. People who are overweight, who have high blood pressure, or who have a family history of type 2 diabetes need to be on the lookout. Being over 25 is also a risk factor. People who have had gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy are particularly likely to get it again; people who have had a stillbirth or delivered a baby over nine pounds may have had undiagnosed diabetes and should also be alert.
However, anyone who gets pregnant is at some risk of diabetes. There are steps that can reduce that risk. Losing weight—never during the pregnancy, but leading up to it if it’s planned—can help. Risk is higher for people who become pregnant while 20 percent or more above ideal body weight. Moderate exercise and healthy eating habits can help protect against diabetes before or during pregnancy.