Pregnancy can take its toll on your body, and your health care provider may offer you many tests and screenings during the three trimesters of pregnancy. One of the most commonly used tests is the screening for gestational diabetes, which measures how your cells are using sugar supplies. Gestational diabetes that is left undiagnosed or untreated can be medically devastating on both you and your baby. Even if you have no prior history of diabetes, or even any signs or symptoms, your body might be reacting differently because of all of the changes and demands that pregnancy puts on it.
A healthy pregnancy relies on the placenta to supply increased levels of certain hormones to help you and your developing baby. However, these hormones don’t always allow your body’s natural insulin levels to work, blocking them from doing their job (regulating your blood sugar). When the blood sugar levels are too high, you can develop gestational diabetes where your body just doesn’t have the regulation it requires to maintain healthy levels of insulin.
Am I at risk?
Most physicians use gestational diabetes screening as part of the typical course of prenatal care, so do not be alarmed if your doctor recommends this test for you. However, there are certain populations of pregnant women who might be more at risk for developing this condition.
- Women 25 years of age and older
- A personal history of either pre-diabetes (slightly elevated blood sugar levels) or gestational diabetes in previous pregnancies
- Women who are very overweight or obese
- Women who are black, Hispanic, American Indian, or Asian
What is the risk to my baby?
Babies who are born to mothers with gestational diabetes can suffer from various complications.
- Excessive birth weight – sometimes resulting in the need for a C-section
- Pre-term birth and associated respiratory distress
- Low blood sugar – hypoglycemia – right after birth resulting from their own insulin production being too high when they relied on support from the placenta
- Jaundice – a symptom of problems with the liver
- An increased risk of Type 2 diabetes as an adult
What is the 1 hour gestational diabetes test?
The first gestational diabetes test that you will likely have will occur as you transition from your 2nd to 3rd trimester. This test involves a glucose challenge for your body, and is referred to as the 1 hour test because you begin by drinking a thick, syrupy glucose solution, and then 1 hour later you have a blood draw. The blood draw will measure the blood sugar level in your body. If you have elevated levels of blood sugar that your doctor feels are higher than normal, he or she will most likely recommend that you have a follow-up test – the 3 hour gestation diabetes test.
What is the 3 hour gestational diabetes test?
If your 1 hours test shows elevations in blood sugar that are abnormal, it is likely that your doctor will have you go through the 3 hours screening process. You will be first asked to fast overnight before the test, and then go in to have your blood sugar level measured. Afterwards you will drink a sweet syrupy solution, just like you did in the 1 hour test, only this one contains a higher amount of glucose. Over a period of three hours your blood sugar levels will be monitored, typically once every hour. If the last two levels of blood sugar are at increased levels (beyond normal), then you will most likely be diagnosed with gestational diabetes.
I have gestational diabetes – now what?
It can be very frightening to be diagnosed with any type of complication during pregnancy, so to hear that you have gestational diabetes can be very stressful. However, now that you know about the diagnosis you can take steps to keep your baby and yourself as healthy as possible.
- Have frequent check-ups to monitor your health and that of your baby’s.
- Talk with your health care provider about your own possible need to take insulin during pregnancy.
- Learn more about other testing options that you might need to consider to evaluate the health of your baby.
- Keep track of fetal movement by counting how many kicks you feel you baby make over a set time. If you notice a long period of inactivity it could signal that your baby is in distress.