The future of treating gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes is a metabolic disorder that usually develops during pregnancy and goes away after. It can affect some, but not all pregnant women.

Approximately 3 to 5% of pregnant women are affected by gestational diabetes. Diabetes can happen up to 18 weeks in a pregnancy, so it's possible for your child to be born with gestational diabetes if you have it during the early stages of your pregnancy. Gestational diabetes often requires treatment because untreated or uncontrolled gestational diabetes is associated with high blood sugar levels for both mothers and babies. The goal of treatment is to keep blood sugar levels near normal as much as possible and decrease the risk of the baby developing health problems during delivery and after birth (such as jaundice).

Treatment for gestational diabetes is based on blood sugar control. During pregnancy, it's important to keep blood sugar levels near normal, so doctors and midwives monitor you for gestational diabetes and make treatment decisions based on this.

Treatment includes oral medication (as an option) or insulin injections. Insulin is usually started when the baby is about three weeks old or earlier if your doctor thinks you're at risk of having a serious complication such as a heart attack or stroke. You'll stop using the medicine when your baby is born and start breastfeeding within two hours of giving birth.

To control blood sugar levels:

  • Eat healthy amounts of carbohydrates, fats, fiber, and protein from a variety of foods each day. Follow your diet plan and get plenty of exercise.

  • For women with gestational diabetes who are treated with insulin, measure your blood sugar at home. Use an insulin pen or syringe and test strip to measure your blood sugar level before you take a dose of insulin. Ask your doctor about times for testing or talk to a nurse about when to test based on how much food you've eaten that day. Insulin must be taken right after a meal or snack that contains carbohydrates (such as fruit juice, breads/cereals/pastas, and pancakes with syrup).

  • If you use an insulin pump: Check your blood sugar levels every 6 hours. If your blood sugar is too high, you'll need to give a shot of insulin to bring it down. Don't use the pump if it's not working well for you or if your blood sugar is too high. Talk with your doctor about any problems with the pump.

  • Live a healthy lifestyle: Eat healthy foods and exercise as much as possible. Limit alcohol intake (if you drink at all) and do not smoke during pregnancy. Get enough sleep and have regular prenatal visits with your doctor (just like you would during pregnancy).

There are currently two treatments for gestational diabetes: diet and exercise, or medication. However, some women don't respond to these treatments - their blood sugar levels remain too high. Researchers are looking for better ways to treat these women, but it remains a difficult problem with no clear answer yet.

Gestational diabetes is usually diagnosed during pregnancy, when the woman may have to take insulin shots or give a blood test. However, sometimes gestational diabetes can go undetected in a pregnant woman until she loses her baby and then develops high blood sugar levels soon afterward. The new study may help spot these women earlier and offer them an easier way to treat their condition.

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