Healthcare for Two: Diabetes in Pregnancy

pregnancy diabetesPregnancy can be one of the happiest and most fulfilling times of a woman’s life.  It can also be one of the riskiest for her health, a time when she must take much greater care of herself and listen to her doctor’s advice.

One of the three types of the disease Diabetes Mellitus affecting humans is pregnancy or gestational diabetes, which appears in pregnant women and then commonly subsides after the birth of the child.  The factors that cause this temporary form of the disease are not fully understood, but it may be due to pregnancy hormones interfering with the functioning of the hormone insulin.  A percentage of cases may be due to previously unsuspected type II diabetes, which is diagnosed during the pregnancy because of routine prenatal health checks.

Pregnancy diabetes occurs most commonly in the final three months of pregnancy, and is due to the mother producing insufficient insulin, leading to increased blood sugar levels.  Up to one in ten of all pregnancies are affected by gestational diabetes.  As symptoms may be minimal, or screened by common symptoms of pregnancy such as fatigue, nausea and yeast infections, it is important for the mother-to-be to keep all her antenatal appointments and undergo medical testing as required by her obstetrician.

Women at increased risk of contracting pregnancy diabetes are those with type II diabetes in a close family member, overweight mothers, and those who have given birth to babies with a high birth weight.  Older moms and those with a personal history of diabetic symptoms or pre-diabetes should also receive special care, and of course ethnic factors must be taken into consideration, as some races are more predisposed to the condition.  Smoking, a very bad idea during pregnancy in any case, doubles the risk of getting pregnancy diabetes.

Mothers with the condition may also have very large babies, which will cause problems during the delivery – women with pregnancy diabetes have a much higher rate of Caesarean section.  They also have a higher incidence of pre-eclampsia, a serious condition associated with high blood pressure and protein in the urine which can go on to cause organ damage.

The expectant mother must bear in mind that she is not only looking after her own health but that of her baby.  Children born to women with gestational diabetes may come into the world with health problems such as low blood sugar and jaundice.  These children are more prone to becoming obese in childhood and developing type II diabetes in later life.

Pregnancy diabetes is easily treatable, and many women need no treatment at all apart from care with their diet and regular blood sugar checks.  Some mothers may need to be treated with insulin or other medications.  Care should be taken to adopt a healthy diet, low in fats and sugars and high in fiber, and to engage in moderate exercise.

Women who develop pregnancy diabetes usually find blood sugar levels return to normal shortly after the birth, but they should be aware that the condition is more likely to recur with subsequent pregnancies, especially if they become pregnant again quickly.  They are also at increased risk of developing type II diabetes in later life.

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