1. Gestational diabetes is becoming far more common.
“The proportion of women diagnosed with gestational diabetes doubled between 1996 and 2010,” says Florence M. Brown, M.D., Senior Staff Physician at the Joslin Diabetes Center and Co-Director of the Joslin-Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center Diabetes in Pregnancy Program. This could be partly due to the growing number of women who are becoming pregnant later in life: Women who are aged 30 or older are more likely to be diagnosed with the condition, Dr. Brown says.
2. Gestational diabetes is seen more often in certain populations.
“Some groups tend to have gestational diabetes more than others, such as Latinos and Asians,” saysFellow of the American Association of Diabetes Educators. This suggests that there’s a genetic component to the condition. Indian women seem especially vulnerable. According to a 2016 study published in the Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism, about 2% of the Indian population had been diagnosed with gestational diabetes in the 1980s; by 2000, the rate had soared to nearly 17%.
3. Gestational diabetes can be diagnosed in a couple different ways.
To test for the condition, your doctor will ask you to drink a sweet substance as part of an oral glucose tolerance test, which will cause your blood sugar levels to change. If your pancreas is producing enough insulin, your blood glucose levels will remain in a healthy range. If not, your body won’t produce enough insulin and glucose levels will rise.
4. Gestational diabetes can lead to serious health consequences for both mom and baby.
High blood sugar levels can cause mothers to deliver larger babies with a higher percentage of body fat, Dr. Brown says. Larger babies may require deliveries by cesarean section, and can be more susceptible to shoulder dystocia (stuck shoulders during vaginal delivery) and other birth injuries, as well as preterm delivery and low blood glucose levels at birth. Moms with gestational diabetes (which goes away after childbirth) can have an increased risk of developing preeclampsia, a serious condition marked by high blood pressure.
5. Gestational diabetes can be treated with diet and exercise (and medication, when necessary).
For some women, a gestational diabetes diagnosis means needing to take a closer look at what they eat and when they exercise. For others, gestational diabetes may mean taking insulin injections. Your doctor will determine the best course of treatment for your particular case. “The simple thing is to follow a meal plan that is six small meals a day: three meals and three snacks, and eating meals lower in carbohydrates in the morning,” Gonzalez says. “That means no cereal or fruit for breakfast, and instead choosing proteins, such as eggs.” Moderate exercise, like walking, is also recommended.
6. Gestational diabetes can often lead to type 2 diabetes down the road.
The most common question Gonzalez gets from mothers with gestational diabetes is whether their babies will develop it, too. The answer, she says, is not necessarily—although the baby may have a higher risk of developing obesity later in life. The more crucial question they should be asking: whether they could potentially develop type 2 diabetes in the future. In fact, Dr. Brown says, moms have a 50% risk of developing the condition within seven to 10 years following a gestational diabetes diagnosis. The good news: According to Dr. Brown, lifestyle changes—including a proper diet and exercise—can help reduce a mother’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future by up to 50%.