Early Testing for Gestational Diabetes is Key to Reducing Pregnancy Risks

by Allison Karp, Education Coordinator

Expectant women have several things to think about during a pregnancy – ensuring they receive quality maternity care, finding the balance between work and personal commitments after the baby has arrived, and preparing emotionally and financially for a new addition to the family. But one aspect of motherhood that may not cross the minds of many expecting women is the bevy of risks associated with being pregnant, including the common threat of gestational diabetes.

According to the American Diabetes Association, gestational diabetes is the presence of high blood glucose levels, or sugar, in the body during pregnancy. Some women develop insulin resistance during pregnancy which takes place due to additional hormones which stop the body’s natural processing of blood glucose. As insulin builds up, it is not easily turned into energy for expecting mother, leading to high blood sugar levels. Gestational diabetes affects upwards of 10% of all pregnant women, whether they have had issues with blood sugar in the past or not. Fortunately, gestational diabetes doesn’t often last past the duration of the pregnancy, but it can cause some challenging issues for both the mother and her newborn if it goes unnoticed and untreated.

Who’s at Risk?

For most women, gestational diabetes is more likely when one of the following is true:

  • You have previously had a child weighing 10 pounds or more at birth

  • You have a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more

  • You have been diagnosed with poly cystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)

  • You have a family history of diabetes

  • You have had gestational diabetes during a past pregnancy

Even if these issues are not a pressing concern for you, gestational diabetes may still be a probable cause for complications during your pregnancy. Many women who are otherwise healthy and in good overall shape can develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy, leading to a handful of consequences that have the potential to affect both you and your child.

One of the more well-known negative outcomes of having gestational diabetes during pregnancy is the reality of delivering a baby who is large for his or her age, also known as macrosomia. The increased size of the child due to blood sugar complications increases the probability of having to induce labor or having a C-section. But having a big baby is not the only problem caused by diabetes during pregnancy. Premature birth (before week 37 of a pregnancy), health problems after birth, including jaundice or low blood sugar, having a miscarriage or stillbirth, and shoulder dystocia may all result from poorly controlled blood sugar during your pregnancy.

Given the potential for these devastating outcomes, screening for gestational diabetes is becoming more of a necessity.

The Importance of Early Screening

Gestation diabetes screening is not always the norm early in pregnancy and is typically performed when one or more of the risk factors listed above are present. However, screening for blood sugar problems is a necessary aspect of having quality maternity care as the disorder can take place during any woman’s pregnancy. Adding to the need for screening is the fact that some women don’t experience any recognizable symptoms from gestation diabetes, creating a lurking threat to the health of their newborn child.

A representative from a UK solicitors’ firm that deals with numerous maternity care claims explains that “despite knowing the risks from untreated blood sugar issues during pregnancy, expectant mothers may or may not be screened for gestational diabetes early on in their pregnancy. It is crucial to raise awareness for early screening, especially because symptoms often lie dormant.” Gestational diabetes screening can be as simple as a urine test during your next doctor’s visit, although a blood test may be required as a follow-up.

Gestational diabetes has the potential to drastically change the course of your child’s life as well as your overall experience being pregnant. Although the occurrence rate of insulin resistance is relatively high compared to other pregnancy-related complications, testing for gestational diabetes has yet to be standard procedure. Even if you don’t fall into one of the high-risk categories for developing the disorder, know that early testing for gestational diabetes is the best way to prepare for a safe pregnancy and ultimately, a healthy, happy newborn.

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