Gestational diabetes may be a term most pregnant mothers have heard, but few of us actually understand the condition and its impact on our babies and our bodies.

Pregnant women are tested for gestational diabetes at 20 weeks. The test requires you to fast for at least 8 hours and drink a syrupy drink to see how your body processes sugar.

This whole process is painless – minus the quick needle stick during the blood draw and hunger pains during your fast – and provides your doctor with very important information. If your results come back high, then you will likely be diagnosed with gestational diabetes.

What is gestational diabetes?

Gestational diabetes occurs when your body isn’t making enough insulin to carry glucose (or sugar) out of your blood during pregnancy. This results in an elevated blood glucose level, or hyperglycemia.

Researchers aren’t sure what causes gestational diabetes, but some factors that put you at a higher risk of developing the condition include:

  • Over age 25
  • Family or personal history of pre-diabetes, diabetes or gestational diabetes
  • Excess weight
  • Ethnicity, including women who are African American, Hispanic, American Indian or Asian

What should I do if I am diagnosed with gestational diabetes?

The first step is not to feel embarrassed or defeated. Nothing you’ve done caused your gestational diabetes. The second step is to listen and closely follow your doctor’s advice on managing your gestational diabetes.

“Keeping blood glucose levels under control is important for anyone with diabetes,” says Erin Kurland, BSN, RN, CPN, CDE and diabetes educator at Adventist Healthcare Shady Grove Medical Center. “This is particularly important for pregnant women because of the complications to their baby if blood sugar is uncontrolled.”

If blood sugar isn’t controlled during your pregnancy, your baby may be at risk for serious complications, including:

  • Preterm birth
  • Low blood sugar at birth
  • High birth weight, which is related to health issues later in life, including obesity, hypertension and diabetes

How can I manage gestational diabetes?

If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, your doctor will help you establish a meal plan to control your blood glucose levels. You may also be encouraged to work with a diabetes educator, who can provide additional advice and support on effectively managing gestational diabetes.

“Gestational diabetes can be a scary diagnosis, but it is very manageable,” says Lauren Comunale, RDN, LDN and registered dietitian with Adventist Healthcare. “Regular physical activity, like walking or yoga, and following meal plans outlined by your doctor or dietitian can help you control your blood sugar.”

Lauren also recommends the following tips that can help women manage their diagnosis:

  • Track meals and activity in a journal or phone app
  • Take a gestational diabetes class to learn more about monitoring your blood sugar and creating healthy meal plans
  • Talk to family and friends about your diagnosis
  • Keep all of your doctor’s appointments so that he or she can monitor your progress and glucose levels

Fortunately, gestational diabetes usually goes away after your deliver. Most of the time, it doesn’t create any additional health concerns later in life, though it may put you at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes or gestational diabetes in future pregnancies. This is particularly true if you were unable to control your blood sugar during pregnancy.

How can I find support?

Adventist Healthcare Shady Grove Medical Center offers a gestational diabetes class every Friday morning from 9-10 a.m. Register by calling 301-315-3129 or emailing Michele McBride at MMcBride@AdventistHealthCare.com.