Last updated on Jun 22nd, 2021 at 04:44 pm

Pregnancy is a life-altering experience, but conditions like gestational diabetes can be dangerous for both mother and child.

This Pregnancy Awareness Week (10 – 16 February), Life Healthcare highlights the importance of routine care and monitoring for gestational diabetes during pregnancy. Find out if you’re at risk…

What is gestational diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is a condition in which a woman without diabetes develops high blood sugar levels during pregnancy.

“Gestational diabetes is most common from 20 weeks of pregnancy and is rarely diagnosed before this. Identifying the signs and symptoms of gestational diabetes isn’t always easy as they are nonspecific. However, a urine test, which is then followed up with a fasting blood test, can ascertain whether an expectant mother has this condition,” explains Dr Liz Radloff, Obstetrician/Gynaecologist at Life Wilgers Hospital in Pretoria.

What causes gestational diabetes?

Pregnancy can affect the way a woman’s body processes sugar due to a high volume of hormones produced by the placenta. These hormones block the body’s ability to produce insulin that moves the sugar from the bloodstream into the body’s cells.

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Risk factors for gestational diabetes include:

  • being over the age of 25 years
  • being overweight
  • having conditions that cause insulin resistance, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
  • having high blood pressure prior to pregnancy

How does gestational diabetes affect mother and baby?

Gestational diabetes can result in various complications for both mother and baby, including a higher than normal birth weight, preterm labour and low blood sugar in the infant.

Generally, gestational diabetes clears after birth, however, mothers who have been diagnosed during pregnancy are likely to develop type 2 diabetes later. Therefore, it is recommended that mothers follow the same diet and exercise plan once their babies have been born.

Diet tips for a healthy pregnancy

How can one avoid getting gestational diabetes?

It is vital that expectant mothers listen to their bodies to avoid the risk of developing complications such as gestational diabetes.

“Nutrition is critically important for an expectant mother and child and will assist in decreasing the risk of developing gestational diabetes,” says Dr Radloff, “It is important for pregnant women to adopt a healthy, balanced diet and establish a regular exercise routine that is overseen and approved by their specialist.”

Dr Radloff says that it is not recommended that women who are overweight attempt to lose weight once they have fallen pregnant. “If weight loss is required, consulting with your specialist and a dietitian will ensure that this is done safely to minimise the risk of complications.”

Should diet and exercise fail in managing this condition, medication in oral or injectable forms may be necessary to manage high sugar levels.

“Gestational diabetes can be a worrying diagnosis for an expectant mother. However, by managing the condition with your obstetrician/gynaecologist and making well-informed decisions related to your diet and exercise, risks can be mitigated, and expectant mothers can look forward to delivering healthy babies,” concludes Dr Radloff. 

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