Gestational diabetes (GDM) is a type of diabetes that occurs in women during pregnancy. It is quite common and affects about 1 in 5 pregnant women in Singapore. It usually occurs around the 24th week or towards the end of pregnancy. Most women with GDM deliver healthy babies who go on to lead healthy lives. However, if not controlled during pregnancy, gestational diabetes can lead to health problems in both mother and baby.
Are there risk factors?
Most women with GDM don't have noticeable signs or symptoms. You should be tested for the condition as part of your prenatal care. Screening for GDM is recommended and is usually done at 24 to 28 weeks of pregnancy. Earlier testing can be done for women who may be at a higher risk:
Body mass index (BMI) > 25kg/m²
Previous baby > 4kg
GDM in a previous pregnancy
Family history of diabetes
How does it affect mothers?
If you have GDM, you will be closely monitored by your doctor during your pregnancy and may need to take medicine or insulin to manage your blood sugar levels. Women with GDM are more likely to develop high blood pressure and preeclampsia (eclampsia). Having GDM increases a woman's chances of developing type 2 diabetes later in life by 40 percent.
How does it affect your baby?
GDM may cause your baby to be very big (>4kg). This can be known as macrosomia. This increases the chance of injury to mother and baby during delivery or the need for caesarean delivery. You may also have an increased risk of stillbirth, early labour or delivery, or your doctor may recommend an earlier delivery because the baby is too large. Gestational diabetes can increase the risk of the newborn having breathing difficulties. This condition should disappear once your baby's lungs mature and get stronger. Your baby may have low sugar levels (hypoglycaemia) after birth and need additional care in the neonatal unit. Your baby may be at greater risk of developing obesity and/or diabetes in later life.
What happens after delivery?
GDM doesn't end when your little one is born, you should continue to keep close tabs on your health. For some women, their abnormal glucose tolerance may persist after pregnancy and long-term follow-up and treatment may be needed. You're also more likely to have gestational diabetes again with another pregnancy. By adopting a healthy lifestyle including a healthy diet, exercise and weight loss (if you are overweight), you can reduce the risk of developing diabetes. You should also be screened for diabetes once every one to three years.
If you've been diagnosed with GDM, don't worry! In most situations, having a healthy eating and exercise plan will be enough to control your GDM. Following your doctor's advice, eating healthily and regular exercise will ensure both you and your baby remain healthy.