Gestational diabetes is on the rise, and with it, growing concerns from health professionals and mothers around the world. While statistics in the USA are worse than ever, Americans aren't the only ones who should take note. Studies show that the number of diagnoses are also steadily increasing in the UK, India, and Australia. There are some ethnic and cultural differences in the prevalence of diagnosis. For example, in America: Asian, Hispanic, African American, and Native American women have an increased risk. In Australia: Aboriginal, Chinese and Indian women have the greatest risk. In Europe and the UK: women of Asian descent have the highest likelihood. And in India: those that live in urban areas have the biggest threat. Studies show that of the 4 locations mentioned, confirmed cases of gestational diabetes have increased as much as 127% over the past 20 years.
So, what gives? What is causing the alarming rate of increasing cases, and what exactly can we do about it?
Experts say that most significant contributing factor is ‘lifestyle’. Rural areas are less effected but not excluded from the daunting reports. Mainly, the daily routines of urbanites in all noted countries, are up for scrutiny. The overwhelming majority of candidates for diagnosis are overweight, over 25 years old, and are not practicing healthy or active lifestyles. Women who smoke prior to and during pregnancy are also at an increased risk. Genetics and medical history can also be influencers, even for those who don't have any of the other risk factors.
Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that develops during pregnancy, it is caused by the inability to properly process sugar (glucose). High blood sugar levels can negatively affect the health of both mother and baby. Gestational diabetes is similar to Type 2 Diabetes, except that it is diagnosed during pregnancy and it typically disappears after birth. Babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes are not necessarily born with diabetes, but they do require close observation of their glucose levels in the hours and days following delivery. Women who are diagnosed with the disease, are 50% more likely to be diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes within 5 years of the index pregnancy. Infants of diagnosed women are at increased risk for developing obesity, glucose intolerance, and Diabetes in childhood or as young adults. These factors appear to be independent of other genetic factors.
The good news? Gestational diabetes is usually manageable through diet restrictions, blood sugar monitoring and/or insulin injections. However, the best way to combat the disease is through prevention. The treatment and prevention of all types of Diabetes are largely related to significant lifestyle changes. Undiagnosed and untreated gestational diabetes can lead to numerous health related issues for both the mother and baby. The results of these detriments can lead to dangerous complications during pregnancy and birth. They can also result in otherwise unnecessary health problems for the entirety of the baby's life and for the remainder of the mother’s life.
Reduce your risk factors, minimize your chances for diagnosis, and eliminate the threat to both you and your baby. Prevention begins prior to pregnancy, so before you conceive, consider the following:
15 Get Screened
Before you start planning for pregnancy, request a glucose test that screens for diabetes. Most women of child bearing age are never tested for diabetes prior to their 24th week of pregnancy. This could be a factor contributing to inflated diagnosises during pregnancy. Every year, more women are becoming overweight, under active, and practicing poor nutrition. It is possible that cases of pre-existing diabetes are not being diagnosed due to a lack of testing. It is important to be proactive in your health, especially when considering pregnancy. It is still possible to have a healthy pregnancy if you test positive for elevated or deflated glucose levels, but it would prove beneficial to get it under control before conceiving.
14 Get Active, Stay Active
If you are overweight, underactive or both; change it! Women who are fit prior to conceiving, gain less pregnancy weight, have far fewer pregnancy complications, and have shorter, easier labor. They are also more likely to be able to continue a fitness regime while pregnant and to resume soon after delivery. Contrary to popular belief, studies have shown that working out through pregnancy is highly beneficial for the health of both mother and baby. However, it is generally not recommended to start a new fitness program after conception. So, stay ahead of the game and get started before pregnancy begins.
13 Eat Better
If it wasn't already obvious, baby eats what you eat. Because the baby receives nutrients directly from the mother via the umbilical chord, he or she will ultimately thrive on whatever it is that you choose to put into your body. We all know that smoking, alcohol and drugs are bad for baby, but have you ever thought about the effects of sugar, soda, fast foods, and junk food? Reducing your consumption of unhealthy, calorie laden foods will help you become healthier and will aid in weight loss. Plus, if you change your habits before pregnancy, you will have a much easier time controlling hormone related cravings and gaining an appropriate amount of weight throughout pregnancy. Establishing healthy habits takes time, the longer you have dedicated yourself, the healthier your body will be and the smaller your chances of being diagnosed with gestational diabetes.
12 Quit Smoking
The public has been well educated for decades about the health complications that smoking while pregnant can pose to the unborn child. According to findings from The American Diabetes Association, women who smoke prior to pregnancy, still have an elevated chance of becoming glucose intolerant after conception. Apparently, dropping the habit at the first sign of a positive pregnancy test…isn't soon enough. Currently, there isn't sufficient data to tell us how long we should be nicotine free to eliminate the risk. But, common sense should tell us, the sooner the better.
11 Ask For Familial Support
Changing your lifestyle is a big deal. The people in your immediate household and possibly even extended family members, can have a big influence on your success or failure. Ask them to support you, and to join you on your quest for a healthy pregnancy. The more support that you have, the easier that it will be to reach your goals. Plan healthy meals together, find ways to get active as a family, and educate your household about the risks of gestational diabetes and how to combat them.
10 Seek Expert Advice
If you believe that you are at risk for developing gestational diabetes, have been diagnosed with the disease in previous pregnancies, or have a history of Type 2 Diabetes in your family, seek expert advice prior to conception. Contact the American Diabetes Association to find out more through classes, support groups, and seminars. Australia, India, and the United Kingdom have similar programs, as do many countries around the world. If you don't live in these areas, and have trouble locating a local office, you can also contact The International Diabetes Federation.
Many communities have volunteer opportunities through hospitals, clinics, and The American Diabetes Association. Through these experiences, you can see first hand how the disease effects the livelihoods of those who have been diagnosed. To understand the constraints and complications that Diabetes can have on daily life could be a good reminder to take prevention seriously.
8 Educate Yourself
One of the easiest ways to be proactive, is to be well educated. You don't need to be an expert, but you can certainly be well informed. Read, research, and investigate the interests, questions and concerns that you have about gestational diabetes. Ask for materials from your primary physician, your Obgyn, or from the library. Use the Internet for references from reputable sites, real life experiences, and for guidance through articles like this one.
Gestational diabetes is quickly becoming an epidemic, characterized by the prevalent changes in the lifestyle of today's child bearing women. Experts urge us to take note and make the positive changes that are necessary to ensure the health of future generations. The possible long-term effects on the increasing number of offspring from women with gestational diabetes, may not be known for several more decades. Access to education on the subject and quality healthcare for both the mother and child are essential, if we hope to alter these trends. Often, there is little or no follow up for post-partum patients that are dismissed from the ongoing care of their Obstetrician. This lack of continual feedback is detrimental to the prevention of future cases. Until these conditions are widely recognized and remedied, it is up the public to share forthcoming information.
Next, you may be wondering, what happens if you still test positive for gestational diabetes, even after putting forth your best efforts to avoid it. Unfortunately, this does occasionally happen, when women test positive for the disease without further explanation. Follow these tips for how to handle it, if that does happen.
7 Don't Panic
While getting a positive diagnosis is no doubt a big deal, it's definitely not a deal breaker. It does not mean that you will have a miscarriage, that your baby will weigh 10 pounds plus, or guarantee that you will need a c-section. If you carefully follow the suggestions from your Obgyn, it is possible to avoid all three. You can stay healthy, proceed with a normal pregnancy, and deliver a perfectly healthy baby.
6 Pick Up Your Testing Supplies
You won't have to guess about what kinds of supplies you need or where time get them. Your doctor will provide you with all of the information you need. Depending on the severity of your glucose intolerance, you may be able to control your blood sugar levels by diet alone. Some women may also need to take insulin injections. You will likely get your supplies through a pharmacy, a group like The American Diabetes Association, or directly from your doctor. It is important to keep yourself well supplied, and to keep extra supplies for backup to protect yourself against any delays from your supply source. Especially during pregnancy, diligence is incredibly important. Both you and your baby can become sick or in danger if you miss a test or forget a dose of medication. Always be prepared, never leave home without your kits, and be aware of what to do in the event of a diabetic emergency.
5 Attend an Informational Support Group
Your doctor may either recommend or require you to enrol in a class for gestational diabetes. These classes are incredibly beneficial to all diagnosed patients. Not only will a counselor be assigned to you, but you will likely have the opportunity to mingle with others who have the same or similar diagnoses. Through these type of communities, you can find support for all aspects of living with gestational diabetes. During the classes, you will receive educational information about the disease, guidance on how to use your medical supplies, nutritional guidance, and individual assessment of your dietary needs.
4 Start a Food Journal & Blood Sugar Log
The best way to control diabetes, is to stay on top of it. In the beginning, you may find it overwhelming to read food labels, to make sense of what you should eat, how much you can have, and when you can have it. Initially, you may even feel confusion over your blood sugar levels and what they mean. This is a whole new world to you, and these feelings are normal. However, the pregnancy won't wait for you to understand, and the diabetes certainly won't dissipate. It is crucial to the health of you and your baby, that you make sense of everything as quickly as possible. Keeping a journal could prove beneficial when trying to understand how different foods effect your blood sugar levels. If necessary, set yourself reminders for the scheduled times that you need to test, and to remind yourself to record your food intake.
3 Take Care of Yourself
You have gestational diabetes and you are armed with the knowledge, medical care, and support that you need. You owe it to yourself and to your baby, to dedicate the rest of your pregnancy to the best health possible. It IS possible to keep gestational diabetes at bay, to prevent further complications and to have a normal labor and delivery, as well as a perfectly healthy baby. Be diligent with your monitoring and in taking any medications that have been prescribed. Eat according to your recommended nutrition plan. Check in with your doctor as required and take full advantage of any support that is available. If you have concerns about affording your medication and supplies, ask for assistance. There are many assistance programs available for expecting Moms and for special needs pregnancies. Ask your insurance provider, your doctor, or groups like The American Diabetes Association where to go for extra help.
Your Obgyn will likely request that you arrive at the hospital as soon as you suspect that you are in labor. The delivery team will be interested in careful monitoring of you and your baby, and will be prepared to handle any complications or emergencies if they should arise. It is very important to closely follow any instructions that you are given upon arrival, especially in regards to food and liquid intake. After the baby has been born, his blood sugar levels will be carefully monitored. In some cases, you may be asked to nurse immediately after birth, to stabilize the glucose levels of your baby. It is expected that a nurse or other medical professional will ask you to report to them, each time your baby eats. They will want to check the glucose response levels, and respond accordingly. Typically, the blood sugar levels are checked through a needle prick to the heel. This will cause only minimal pain,if any, for the baby, and he may not even notice. For you, unless you are shown to have pre-existing diabetes, your glucose and nutrition monitoring will cease shortly after birth, and you will officially be diabetes-free, just as you were, prior to pregnancy.
1 Honor Your Follow Up Care
After you are released from the hospital, your Obgyn will require you to return to the office for one final pregnancy related visit. Unless you have other medical concerns, this postpartum appointment will release you from her care until approximately one year later, when you should return for your yearly exam. At this time, you may be asked to take a new glucose test to rule out underlying diabetes. Unfortunately, these tests are not strictly enforced, and too often, women are never tested again until they reach the 24th week of their next pregnancy. It is important to understand and take care of your body, regardless of pregnancy. Untreated diabetes can lead to numerous dangerous, and sometimes life threatening complications. 1 in 2 women who had gestational diabetes are diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes within 5 years. This means, that you are at relatively high risk. It is up you, to insist on receiving this postpartum test and to request one annually at the time of your yearly exam.