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What Is Gestational Diabetes? - Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

Instructor: Staci Ford

Staci has taught Nursing and has a Master's degree in Nursing Education.

Learn the definition and cause of gestational diabetes. Explore important information about this treatable condition that any pregnant woman could develop. Discover what risks it can pose for babies and how it might be managed.

What is Gestational Diabetes?

You have probably heard a fisherman speak of his latest catch and gesture with wide open arms, 'it was THIS big!' Well today many parents are saying this after their own baby is born. But, unlike the fish story, it is not a tall tale! More and more babies are being born weighing 12, 13, and even 14 pounds. Why are they so big you might wonder? Because of a condition that many women develop during pregnancy called Gestational Diabetes Mellitus (GDM) .

About 5-10 percent of pregnant women acquire GDM. It only occurs during pregnancy, and it ends after birth. There are usually no signs and symptoms of GDM, so pregnant woman receiving prenatal care are screened between 24 and 28 weeks gestation.

What is the Cause?

Glucose is secreted in the blood for fuel, and insulin is used to break down that glucose. When there is an imbalance of insulin and glucose, there are negative effects to your body. There is no known cause of GDM, but it is related to placental hormones that block insulin. This causes an increased amount of insulin to pass to the fetus, which causes the fetus to secrete more glucose. This extra glucose is stored as excess fat.

Does It Hurt the Baby?

GDM affects women later in pregnancy, so it doesn't cause problems to fetal organ development. However, it does affect the growth of the fetus during the end of pregnancy.

GDM causes babies to grow too big in utero, which is called macrosomia. Delivery of a big baby may require the use of forceps or vacuum extraction by the doctor. This could cause shoulder dystocia, head injury, and breathing problems. There is also a greater risk of a Cesarean Section.

After birth, many big babies have trouble regulating their own blood glucose. This can cause problems with feeding, staying warm, and breathing. Sometimes they are transferred to a Neonatal Intensive Care for monitoring.

Image of a macrosomic baby
Photo of a macrosomic baby

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