Pregnancy diabetes on the rise

10.29.08 The risks extend beyond delivery for mom and baby


Gestational diabetes simply means an elevated blood sugar during pregnancy. But the risks involved are anything but simple—they're very serious for both mom-to-be and baby. The good news is that woman can take steps to reduce the risks of this dangerous prenatal condition. The rate of gestational diabetes has almost doubled—now affecting about 4 percent of all pregnant women in the U.S, The New York Times reports. The number is even higher for expectant teens, California moms-to-be and minority women, health officials said.

Although the exact cause is unclear, a Northwestern University endocrinologist told The New York Times that he believes the rise in prepregnancy weight among American women is behind the current surge in prenatal diabetes cases. Women who are overweight or have a family history of diabetes have a higher-than-average risk for this condition.

A study published in The New England Journal of Medicine in May 2008 shows links between blood sugar levels and pregnancy outcomes, even when the mother's sugar levels are not high enough to be called diabetes.

In moms-to-be, the extra sugar also raises the baby's sugar level, which gives the fetus more energy to grow larger and then makes a Cesarean section more likely for mom. The condition can also cause high blood pressure, which can lead to strokes, and a higher risk of developing Type II diabetes later in life. Once you have Type II diabetes, you always have it. The gestational form usually goes away after the baby is born.

Stimulated by mom's extra sugar, the baby's pancreas may produce extra insulin and can lead to a higher risk of breathing problems. These babies are also more likely to become obese children and diabetic adults.

The first line of defense is typically maintaining a normal blood sugar level throughout the day, usually through more frequent, healthy meals and snacks and daily exercise. Regardless of your risk level, gestational diabetes screening is now routine in prenatal checkups. Click over to Sugar Blues to learn more about prevention tips and one Fit Pregnancy writer's experience with her screening test.

Maria Vega is Fit Pregnancy magazine's copy editor.