Gestational diabetes is prevalent in pregnancies today. In California, about 1 in 8 pregnant women are diagnosed with Gestational Diabetes, with rates in specific areas soaring to nearly 30% (1). In this blog, we’re diving into what gestational diabetes is, the risk factors, and why it is not your fault.
Thankfully, while gestational diabetes is common, it is also highly manageable. That’s why I created the gestational diabetes master course to walk you through how to manage it through lifestyle.
What is Gestational Diabetes?
Gestational diabetes (GD) is a condition that occurs exclusively during pregnancy. It is different from other types of diabetes, such as Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, because pregnancy hormones cause it.
GD develops when the body cannot produce enough insulin to compensate for the insulin resistance created by pregnancy hormones. If you have GD, It’s time to stop the blame game. It’s simply the result of your progressing pregnancy.
Insulin is a hormone that is released depending on how many foods with carbohydrates you eat. All carbs break down into sugar, and it’s insulin’s job to put this sugar in the cell. In the third trimester of pregnancy, rising hormones cause insulin resistance. Insulin resistance means some cells no longer allow insulin to lower blood sugar. Sugar in the mom’s blood freely goes through the placenta to the baby. The body does this to send more sugar to the baby in the third trimester because it needs the extra energy to grow.
Women with gestational diabetes tend not to make enough insulin to compensate for the insulin resistance and send too much sugar over to the baby. When too much sugar goes to the baby from the mom, it can potentially lead to complications like excessive birth weight, preterm birth, increased risk for cesarean section, low blood sugar at birth, nerve damage, and respiratory distress syndrome.
Why Gestational Diabetes is Not Your Fault
Gestational Diabetes does not discriminate. I’ve had women who are marathon runners with hardly any body fat be on high levels of insulin because diet control doesn’t work, and women who are overweight be diet-controlled entirely. It can occur in any pregnant woman, regardless of her health status.
Research shows certain factors may increase the risk – such as family history, obesity, and age. This unpredictability underscores the importance of routine screening for all pregnant women, usually between the 24th and 28th weeks of pregnancy.
Age as a Risk Factor
The risk increases with age. Every year over the age of 25, the risk goes up. I let patients know I would likely get gestational diabetes (GD) at the age of 38, even though I am the specialist who doesgestational diabetes management!
Increased risk with age is partly due to the pancreas becoming less efficient in insulin production as we get older.
Family History and Genetics
A family history of diabetes, including in grandparents, significantly raises the risk of developing Gestational Diabetes. We don’t have control over our genes, so that is another reason it is NOT YOUR FAULT.
Previous Pregnancy Complications
Women who have had Gestational Diabetes in a previous pregnancy or delivered a baby weighing over nine pounds face an increased risk. Additionally, a history of birth defects in previous pregnancies can also be a contributing factor.
Weight and Lifestyle
Excessive weight gain, even during pregnancy, can heighten the risk of Gestational Diabetes. Starting the GD eating plan when thinking about getting pregnant or in your 1st or second trimesters can help decrease this risk factor. You can use my GD master course as a way to reduce your risk of getting GD.
Certain ethnic groups, including Hispanic, African American, Native American, South Asian, and Pacific Islanders, are at a higher risk.
Women like myself with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) are also more susceptible due to pre-existing insulin resistance, which pregnancy hormones can exacerbate.
History of Miscarriage or Stillbirth
A history of miscarriage or stillbirth is another factor that can increase the risk of GD. However, it’s important to note that GD can occur even without these risk factors.
Despite these risks, Gestational Diabetes can sometimes occur unexpectedly in healthy individuals with no apparent risk factors. The unpredictability of Gestational Diabetes underscores the importance of regular screening during pregnancy, especially for those at higher risk.
Understanding what is Gestational Diabetes and what causes it is important to understand your treatment better and to take the burden of yourself thinking this is your fault. You can get video number one for FREE in my Master Gestational Diabetes Course explaining.
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Ginger Cochran is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, functional medicine practitioner, Certified Diabetes Educator & Care Specialist, Certified Wellness Coach, Certified Exercise Physiologist, and owner of Nutritious Ginger, an integrative and functional nutrition practice focusing on full body self-care and nourishment. Ginger’s primary specialty is women’s health, with a special emphasis on gestational diabetes, weight management, infertility, digestive wellness, and overall health + happiness.
Ginger serves on the board of director for the Nutrition Care Manual by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.