Learn about testing and treatment for gestational diabetes during pregnancy, plus early signs that you could be at risk.

pregnant woman at doctors office
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Chances are you'll sail through pregnancy without trouble, but even if you're feeling great, you should still seek regular prenatal care. That's because some health problems that could hurt your baby are symptomless, including gestational diabetes.

Gestational diabetes occurs when pregnancy hormones interfere with the body's ability to use insulin, the hormone that turns blood sugar into energy, resulting in high blood sugar levels. Each year, 2 to 10 percent of pregnancies in the United States are affected by gestational diabetes according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

With early detection and treatment, however, you can still have a healthy baby. Here's what you need to know about signs and symptoms of gestational diabetes:

Early Signs You're At Risk

One in 100 women develop diabetes before pregnancy. Unfortunately, women with poorly controlled preexisting diabetes are three to four times more likely than non-diabetic women to have babies with birth defects of the heart or neural tube.

Women with preexisting diabetes also have an increased risk of miscarriage and stillbirth. Fortunately, you can significantly reduce these risks by controlling your blood sugar before pregnancy. If you have preexisting diabetes, speak with your doctor before you attempt to conceive.

Other early warning signs that you are at risk for gestational diabetes include the following according to March of Dimes:

  • You’re older than 25.  
  • You’re overweight or you gained a lot of weight during pregnancy. 
  • You have a family history of diabetes. This means that one or more of your family members has diabetes. 
  • You’re African-American, Native American, Asian, Hispanic or Pacific Islander. These women are more likely to have gestational diabetes than others.  
  • You had gestational diabetes in a past pregnancy. 
  • You had a baby in a past pregnancy who weighed more than 9 pounds or was stillborn. 

Symptoms of Gestational Diabetes

While most women with gestational diabetes have no symptoms, a small number may experience extreme hunger, thirst, or fatigue.

    Your doctor will probably screen you for gestational diabetes between your 24th and 28th weeks of pregnancy. If you have certain risk factors, your doctor may opt to screen you sooner. During your screening, you'll drink a sugary liquid, then take a blood test. If your blood sugar levels appear high, you'll need to take a longer test, during which you'll drink more liquid and your blood sugar will be tested several times to determine whether you have gestational diabetes.

    Risks of Gestational Diabetes

    Women who fail to seek treatment for gestational diabetes run the risk of giving birth to big babies (9 pounds or more), since much of the extra sugar in the mother's blood ends up going to the fetus. Larger babies are more likely to suffer birth injuries during vaginal delivery, as they're more apt to get stuck in the birth canal.

    Because of this, large babies are often delivered by c-section, and they have an increased risk of developing breathing difficulties and jaundice as newborns.

    Treating Gestational Diabetes

    Many women who develop this condition can control their blood sugar levels with diet and exercise. Your doctor or dietitian may design an individualized diet that takes into account your weight, stage of pregnancy, and food preferences.

    Of this diet, 10 to 20 percent of your calories should come from protein, 30 percent from fats, and the remainder from complex carbohydrates such as whole-grain breads or cereals. If you've been on the diet for two weeks and your blood sugar level hasn't returned to normal, you may need to take insulin shots for the rest of your pregnancy.

    Studies have found that women who develop gestational diabetes may also be at risk of developing preeclampsia, though the reason is still unknown.

    American Baby