You may have heard of gestational diabetes, or diabetes during pregnancy, but what is it?

What are the causes, symptoms and how would you know that you are at risk of it?

Here’s our guide to gestational diabetes which covers everything you need to know.

 What causes gestational diabetes?

Gestational diabetes develops when your body can’t produce enough insulin to meet the extra needs during pregnancy, making your blood sugar levels too high. The hormones produced during pregnancy can make it difficult for your body to use insulin properly, putting you at an increased risk of insulin resistance. And, because pregnancy places a heavy demand on the body, some women are less able to produce enough insulin to overcome this resistance. According to the NHS, this can happen at any time when you’re pregnant, though it’s more common during the second half of pregnancy and usually disappears after giving birth.

Most people are aware that there are two main types of diabetes: Type 1 diabetes means your body isn’t producing enough insulin; and Type 2 diabetes, which is when your body doesn’t make enough insulin or the insulin it makes doesn’t work properly. But another type of diabetes can affect women when they’re pregnant, which is called gestational diabetes.

What are the symptoms?

Often there aren’t any signs or symptoms of diabetes during pregnancy, which is why it’s important to take the screening test if it’s offered .If, however, your blood sugar levels become too high, you may experience some symptoms, such as:

  • Feeling thirsty all the time,
  • Needing to urinate frequently,
  • Feeling tired
  • Having a dry mouth
Are you at risk of developing it?

Are you worried about your risk of gestational diabetes? You may be at risk if one of the following applies to you

  • Women with a body mass index of 30 or higher
  • Having previously had a high birth-weight baby (4.5kg or more)
  • Having a close relative with diabetes
  • If you’ve had gestational diabetes before.
How do you test for it?

On your first 12 week antenatal appointment, you will be asked a few health related questions to see if you are at risk of gestational diabetes. If you are at risk of developing diabetes during pregnancy, you will be put forward for an oral glucose tolerance test, often abbreviated to OGTT.

The current UK screening process is as follows:

  • Your appointment is usually booked between 24-28 weeks of your pregnancy but may be earlier if you have had gestational diabetes before
  • You will be asked to fast overnight before your appointment
  • An initial blood test
  • Drinking a glucose drink
  • Resting for two hours
  • A secondary blood test to see how your body is dealing with the glucose

If are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, you aren’t likely to experience any problems with your pregnancy if your blood glucose levels are well managed. If changes in your diet and exercise do not help manage your levels, you may have to take diabetes medication while you’re pregnant.

You will be closely monitored during your pregnancy and you will be advised to regularly check your own blood glucose levels to keep on top of your levels.

What should you eat?

If you have recently been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, you may be wondering what you can eat. As with every pregnancy, your midwife or doctor will have advised you to try and keep to a healthy diet as much as possible. It’s good to be aware of your sugar intake in order to safely manage your glucose levels. It is also good to understand the glycaemic index so you can choose food with a low GI which release sugar more slowly. For example, wholegrains, pasta, pulses and beans as opposed to potatoes, white bread and short grain rice. Here’s our guide to the glycaemic index.

While gestational diabetes only lasts as long as you’re pregnant, it means your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes in the future has increased. It’s important to have a blood test 6 to 13 weeks after giving birth to check your levels. It also means you are more likely to develop it again in any future pregnancies.

For further advice on how to manage gestational diabetes, talk to your GP or visit your local LloydsPharmacy.