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IBX Insights

Shining a Light on Gestational Diabetes

A young expecting mother talks with her physician

Many people have a health issue when they’re pregnant called gestational diabetes. It can affect between two and ten percent of all pregnancies. What is it, and what does it mean during and after your pregnancy?

Your body uses sugar and other carbohydrates to give your cells the energy they need to function. Your body converts these carbohydrates to a sugar called glucose. And your pancreas, which is an organ in your abdomen, makes a hormone called insulin that lets glucose into your cells.

Sometimes your body goes through changes that can make it use insulin less effectively. That’s called insulin resistance. In this case, not enough sugar gets to your cells, and too much stays in your blood. If that happens while you’re pregnant, we call it gestational diabetes.

Why Gestational Diabetes Can Be a Problem

Gestational diabetes is associated with high blood pressure in pregnancy, which can further complicate your pregnancy. Having it also increases your likelihood of getting type 2 diabetes in the future.

Gestational diabetes can also affect your baby, increasing the risk that:

  • Your baby might get very large. This can make your delivery more difficult, and it might mean you will need a C-section.
  • Your baby could be born too early, which can have its own complications.
  • Your baby could have low blood sugar and/or could develop type 2 diabetes later in life.

For all these reasons, it’s important to do what you can to reduce your risk of developing gestational diabetes. And you and your doctor should keep an eye on your blood sugar during your pregnancy so that if you do develop gestational diabetes, your doctor can help you manage it.

Gestational Diabetes is a Health Equity Issue

Gestational diabetes can happen to anyone who is pregnant, but women over the age of 25 who are of African, Asian, Hispanic, Native American, or Pacific Island descent are more likely to get it.

There are many possible reasons for these differences. However, it seems clear that they’re part of a much larger pattern of racial and ethnic health inequities in general, and maternal health inequities in particular. That’s all the more reason for everyone to be well-informed about gestational diabetes.

Gestational diabetes can happen to anyone, but as I’ve said, it’s more common among Black, Hispanic, American Indian, or Asian American individuals. In addition, certain other factors also make it more likely:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Not being physically active
  • Having prediabetes; having had gestational diabetes in a prior pregnancy; or having an immediate family member who has diabetes
  • Having previously delivered a baby weighing more than nine pounds
  • Having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • Being over the age of 25
  • Being born outside the United States

If you have any of these risk factors, it’s important to discuss your risk of gestational diabetes with your doctor.

How to Reduce Your Risk of Getting Gestational Diabetes

There’s no way to completely prevent yourself from getting gestational diabetes, but some lifestyle changes can help make it less likely:

How Do You Know If You Have Gestational Diabetes?

There are some warning signs you might notice if you’re developing gestational diabetes:

  • Feeling unusually thirsty
  • Having a dry mouth
  • Being more tired than normal

But many pregnant people have these symptoms without having gestational diabetes. And not every pregnant person with gestational diabetes has them. Your doctor can help provide some clarity by giving you a blood glucose test between your 24th and 28th week of pregnancy. This is part of normal prenatal screening. If the test shows your blood sugar is too high, you will have to take an additional three-hour diagnostic test to confirm that you do have gestational diabetes.

If you notice any sudden changes in how you feel during your pregnancy, always check with your doctor. It could be something totally normal…or it could be a warning sign that there’s a problem. And it’s much better to catch problems sooner than later.

What If You Do Get Gestational Diabetes?

If your doctor tells you that you have gestational diabetes, don’t panic! But DO work with your doctor to keep it under control.

Usually your doctor will encourage you to modify your diet and get more exercise. In other words, the same things that help prevent gestational diabetes can also help stop it from harming your health, or your baby’s.

Your doctor may also recommend daily blood sugar testing and insulin injections. Both are completely safe for your pregnancy and will help make sure your blood sugar doesn’t get out of control.

Once you’ve had your baby, breastfeeding can help reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes post pregnancy.

We’re Here to Help

Independence Blue Cross is committed to supporting our members throughout their pregnancies. (And at all other times as well!) I highly recommend you take advantage of our free Baby BluePrints® Maternity Program, which provides personal support throughout your pregnancy and after giving birth. Nurses who specialize in pregnancy-related care are available by phone 24/7/365. They can help you with any questions or complications you may experience.

And we’re working with Cayaba Care and Cocolife.black to help support pregnant people who may be struggling to access high-quality care because of racial and ethnic health inequities.

For our members who need to do blood sugar testing, we offer advanced blood glucose meters, unlimited test strips and lancets, real-time support for out-of-range readings, and personalized tips, action plans, and coaching through Livongo.

So please take advantage of whichever services will best help you take care of yourself.

I’d like to personally wish you a safe and healthy pregnancy, delivery, and parenthood.

Cayaba Care is an independent company offering maternity services. Message and data rates may apply.
 
Cocolife.black is an independent company.
 
Livongo is an independent company.

Dr. Seun Ross, DNP, CRNP-F, NP-C

About Dr. Seun Ross, DNP, CRNP-F, NP-C

Dr. Seun Ross is the Executive Director of Health Equity in the Quality Management department at Independence Blue Cross. Dr. Ross earned a bachelor of nursing and a master of science degree from Coppin State University and a doctoral degree in nursing practice with a focus on organizational leadership from Chatham University. In her clinical work as a family nurse practitioner, she has focused on achieving population health. She is an ardent proponent of health equity and is committed to achieving health justice for all vulnerable populations.