Guest blogger - Team Milkeaze
Medical problems during pregnancy can be scary, we get it. The key to relieving your anxiety about a new diagnosis is education and support. The more you know, the easier these things are to manage. This won’t be an all-inclusive read so make sure you check out the links below and ask for more information from your doctor or diabetes educator.
One of the most common medical problems that affects women during pregnancy is gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM). It affects around 1 in 10 pregnant women in Australia. This rises to nearly 1 in 3 in those with risk factors - some of these include ethnicity (particularly Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander, Pacific Islander and Asian women), being overweight or older in age. I’m sure everyone has heard the word diabetes and unfortunately there can be stigma attached. This kind of diabetes is very different to types that occur outside of pregnancy. The exact cause of GDM is not well understood but it is believed to be related to hormones released by the placenta which stop the hormone insulin working in your body. An easy way to understand insulin is by imagining it as the “key” that allows sugar in your bloodstream to enter your organs and muscles. So when the insulin isn’t working it can cause the sugar levels in the bloodstream to rise. Uncontrolled high sugar levels can have harmful effects on both you and bub.
Your doctor will normally test you for GDM towards the end of the second trimester (or sometimes earlier in higher risk populations) through the glucose tolerance test. During this test you will have your blood sugar levels taken before and a few hours after a sugary drink. It’s not a fun test but it’s so important to do. GDM can be managed well but only if you know you have it.
Complications from diabetes can occur before, during and after birth. During your pregnancy the risk of blood pressure problems and pre-eclampsia is higher. Sometimes there can be an increased amount of amniotic fluid in the womb. Diabetes can increase the risk of having a large or less commonly small baby, which can increase the risk of further complications such as Bub becoming stuck in the birth canal, and increasing the risk of needing a C-section. At birth babies can sometimes have trouble breathing and might require some assistance. After delivery your baby will require blood sugar monitoring as new bubs can have difficulty regulating their blood sugars for the first few days.
This sounds scary, but luckily, the likelihood of complications can be reduced by keeping our blood sugars as close to normal as possible. There are numerous ways to go about this and different approaches work for different women. If you are diagnosed with GDM your doctor will discuss these management options. Some women can manage their blood sugars with dietary changes (which often includes eating less carbs, sadly!) and exercise alone. Other women may require further help in the form of medication, as well as healthy/lower carb eating and exercise. This can sometimes be a tablet or by injecting insulin. Your doctor or diabetes educator will discuss the different management options and recommend the best for you. No matter how your diabetes is managed, regularly testing your blood sugar levels through finger pricking is very important. This allows your health care team so see exactly what your levels are doing and alter your treatment to ensure the best outcomes for you and bub.
If your diabetes is well controlled and you don’t develop any complications, most women can have a relatively normal pregnancy and birthing process. Many women will have an extra scan or two in the later stages of your pregnancy to assess the size and growth of Bub and check on things like amniotic fluid levels. If Bub is big or there are other complications, induction (bringing on labour) is often recommended at term or slightly earlier. These decisions will be made through discussions between you and your healthcare team and are very dependent on your individual wishes, the control of your diabetes and how bub is going.
Around 6 weeks after birth your GP will test you again to make sure it isn’t another form of diabetes that was picked up during pregnancy (this is quite rare). Having GDM does increase the risk of having diabetes in further pregnancies and developing type 2 diabetes later on in life. Living a healthy lifestyle can decrease the risk of this happening.
While diabetes, or any new condition, is a lot take on (isn’t being pregnant enough to deal with!?), it is a very manageable condition. With a good team, the right treatment for you and good motivation you will find your groove and be meeting bub in no time!
Though we hope you find it informative, this blog post is the view of the authors and is for entertainment purposes only. It does not constitute medical or legal advice. Please seek professional guidance if you or your baby are experiencing any issues. Happy reading!