Finding out that you have gestational diabetes (GD) can be both scary and shocking. It means months of carefully watching what you eat, checking your blood sugar, or even taking insulin or other medications. But while all that can sound incredibly daunting, it doesn't have to be. One of the most important things doctors want you know about gestational diabetes is that it's completely manageable.
"I like to tell moms... by far the most likely outcome of their pregnancy is a healthy mom and a healthy baby, even with the gestational diabetes," Dr. Sarah Dotters-Katz, a maternal fetal medicine specialist at Duke Health, tells Romper.
Your doctor and/or dietician will help you come up with a meal plan that should help your blood sugars in check. That usually means counting your carbs and starches, and avoiding sweets and sugary drinks, according to a pamphlet published by the National Institutes of Health. And while sticking to that plan can sometimes be a struggle, Dotters-Katz says it's important to just do the best you can. "Nobody's perfect. Your nutritionist is going to talk to you about this new dietary regiment, but if once a week you want to have a cookie... that's OK."
Here are 7 more things doctors want you to know about gestational diabetes, so you can have as happy and healthy a pregnancy as possible.
1. Anyone Can Develop It
"Many women have never had any history of diabetes or any history of pre-diabetes," when they get the diagnosis, Dotters-Katz said. But even though having either of those conditions certainly raises your risk for GD, anyone can develop it. "The reason that this happens in pregnancy... is that the body is smart. It wants some sugar to go to the baby so the baby can grow. This is a natural thing that the body does to help the baby grow. But for some women, it does it to a level that's too high... and that's what leads to gestational diabetes," Dotters-Katz explains.
2. It's Not Your "Fault"
Too many women blame themselves for developing GD, and wonder what they could have done differently to avoid it. But that sort of thinking is a bit off base, according to Dotters-Katz. "A lot of it is really genetic," she explains. You could take a random group of women and give them the same diet, and some might get GD and while others would not. "Some of them, even eating the exact same foods, would have higher sugars and would end up needing medicine," she says.
3. It's Very Manageable
As intimidating as GD can seem, in many cases, it's actually fairly simple to control. "We do some education to help them understand what this means," Dr. Ellen Seely, an endocrinologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital, tells Romper. "We recommend that they meet with a nutritionist to sort of talk about how to eat kind of a diabetic diet... and then we teach them how to check their blood sugars." Your doctor will tell you how often you need to check your sugars, but it'll typically be once in the morning and after every meal, according to the Mayo Clinic.
4. It Can Have Serious Consequences
Gestational diabetes — especially if not managed well — can lead to larger than average babies. That in turn raises your odds of needing a C-section, Seely says. "Obviously, C-sections are done for many reasons... but the recovery period for a C-section is longer than the recovery period for a vaginal delivery."
GD can also raise the baby's blood sugar in utero, causing issues at birth. "The baby's pancreas starts making extra insulin... so as soon as the baby's delivered and the mother's sugar is no longer a source, then the baby can't turn off it's extra insulin right away... which can lead to low blood sugar," Seely explains. In many cases, that'll mean a stay in the neonatal intensive care unit.
Dr. Dotters-Katz warns that in the worst case scenario, the consequences are even more terrifying. "Poorly controlled sugars can lead to stillbirths. It's not common, but it can happen." Thankfully, sticking to your specialized GD diet and carefully monitoring your blood sugar can help you avoid these issues.
5. You May Or May Not Get It Again
Having GD with one pregnancy doesn't necessarily mean you'll definitely have it with subsequent pregnancies — but your odds are a little higher. Writing for Everyday Health, Dr. Chris Iliades noted that there's a 45% to 65% chance you will get it again.
One good piece of news, however, is that GD doesn't linger long once you deliver. "The majority of people, it's going to go away within a couple of weeks after pregnancy," Seely says. The exception, however, is those women who may have actually had undiagnosed Type 2 Diabetes that ends up being mistaken for GD.
6. It Raises Your Risk For Type 2 Diabetes
"We know that women who have gestation diabetes are actually at higher risk for developing overt diabetes later in life," Dotters-Katz says. "It's sort of like an early warning sign." She recommends women use that warning as a way to make healthy changes that can benefit them even after they give birth. Seely agrees. "We try to explain to women that they have a window into their future health... and they can take preventive action to decrease their chance of Type 2 Diabetes."
7. It's Important To Get Screened
Even if you're heading into pregnancy feeling great, you shouldn't pass on the screening, Seely says. "Almost every person in the U.S. now has risk factors... and needs to be screened." If you do have GD, figuring out how to manage it is in the best interest of both you and your baby. "Diagnosing gestational diabetes, even if it's mild to moderate, has a benefit for pregnancy outcomes," says Seely.
Dr. Sarah Dotters-Katz, Maternal Fetal Medicine Specialist, Duke Health
Dr. Ellen Seely, Director of Clinical Research, Endocrinology, Diabetes and Hypertension Division, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital