We spoke to Melinda Morrison, the National Program Leader of the National Diabetes Services Scheme NDSS Diabetes in Pregnancy Program to find out about risk factors and management of the condition. Listen to the full interview:
What causes gestational diabetes?
During pregnancy, hormones produced by the placenta — which help the baby grow and develop — can block the action of insulin in the mother’s body. Pregnant women need to make 2-3 times the usual amount of insulin to help keep blood glucose levels within the normal range. So, if the body isn’t able to produce the insulin required, this can lead to high blood glucose levels and potentially the development of gestational diabetes.
Symptoms to look out for
There are usually no symptoms of gestational diabetes, so routine screening via a blood test is recommended at approximately 24-28 weeks into the pregnancy. This will detect whether blood glucose levels are outside the target range and if the expectant mother is at risk of developing the condition.
For women who do experience gestational diabetes during pregnancy, it’s also recommended they get tested again 6-12 weeks after giving birth — to make sure blood glucose levels are back in the normal range.
What are the complications?
One of the main complications of gestational diabetes is the baby growing too large, which can cause problems for women during labour and birth. After birth, the baby may also face an increased risk of low blood glucose levels, jaundice and prematurity of birth.
Who is most at risk?
Even healthy, physically active women can develop gestational diabetes, but some women are more at risk if they:
- Are over 40 years of age
- Have a family history of type 2 diabetes
- Have had gestational diabetes during previous pregnancies
- Are overweight or obese
- Gain too much weight early on during pregnancy
Reducing the risk
There are a few ways gestational diabetes can be prevented during pregnancy, including:
- Talk to your GP or health professional about appropriate weight gain during pregnancy
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Take care of your nutrition — focusing on fruit and vegetables, wholegrain breads and lean meat. Avoid processed or fried foods and anything high in saturated fat
- Incorporate physical exercise into your daily life
For more information on family health, visit Better Families.