Gestational diabetes is a condition when a woman who has always had normal blood sugar develops high blood sugar levels during pregnancy (gestation). This happens because the body of a pregnant woman becomes more resistant to insulin due to the hormones made by the placenta. Besides helping to maintain a healthy pregnancy, these hormones also block the action of the woman’s insulin in her body, leading to insulin resistance.
For most pregnant women it is not a problem, but in as many as 9.2% of women the glucose builds up in the blood causing hyperglycemia. If not recognized and treated immediately the condition can cause health problems for both the mother and her baby.
The gestational diabetes makes the woman’s pancreas work overtime and secrete more insulin which doesn’t lower glucose levels. While insulin doesn’t cross the placental barrier, glucose and other nutrients do, giving the baby high sugar levels. This makes the pancreas of the fetus produce more insulin to process that glucose. As a result, the baby receives more energy than needed for development and growth, and the extra energy is stored as fat, resulting in macrosomia or excessive birth weight.
Macrosomic infants are bigger than average and can get stuck in the birth canal while delivery, which can injure nerves in the neck and shoulder. They are also more likely to be premature and delivered by Caesarian section.
Since extra insulin is produced by the baby’s pancreas, the newborn may have low sugar levels after birth and may have breathing problems. Such babies become children with a high risk for obesity, and being obese in its turn leads to development of diabetes in children.
The good news is that unlike other types of diabetes, gestational diabetes is not permanent and once the baby is born, the blood sugar usually returns to normal very quickly. Although, having gestational diabetes makes the developing of type 2 diabetes in future more likely, early detection and proper treatment allows to prevent difficult delivery and keep the mother and the child healthy.