Everything you need to know about gestational diabetes

Singer Meghan Trainor cast a spotlight on gestational diabetes during her pregnancy – and a growing number of women are being diagnosed with the complication.

Meghan Trainor was talking with the US Today show about being pregnant with her first child when she revealed she’d been diagnosed with gestational diabetes.

The All About That Bass singer explained she was managing the condition by paying extra attention to her food choices.

“Got a little tiny bump in the road – I got diagnosed with gestational diabetes, but it’s manageable and it’s OK and I’m healthy and the baby’s healthy,” she said in the interview.

The pregnancy-related health condition is soaring in Australia, with the number of women diagnosed annually more than doubling over the past decade.

“And these women are at higher risk of serious complications during the birth, with babies more likely to need special care in hospital, and both mum and baby at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life,” says Diabetes Australia chief executive Greg Johnson.

Endocrinologist Associate Prof Glynis Ross says while a diagnosis can be scary, gestational diabetes can be managed with diet, exercise and, sometimes, medication.

“It’s important women realise it’s not their fault, they shouldn’t feel guilty,” she says.

So, what exactly is gestational diabetes?

Gestational diabetes mellitus (sometimes known as GDM) is a condition where blood sugar levels become high during pregnancy.

It is diagnosed using a routine screening test.

Known as oral glucose tolerance testing, this usually happens 24 to 28 weeks into your pregnancy, although you may be advised to do it earlier.

The test involves fasting and undergoing blood tests before and after drinking a glucose-loaded mixture.

“Women who have no risk factors for GDM and who have a healthy diet and exercise during pregnancy can still develop GDM. That’s why all women without known diabetes should be screened for high glucose levels,” says Associate Professor Julia Marley, of the University of Western Australia.

Who’s most at risk of developing gestational diabetes?

Some women are more likely to develop gestational diabetes than others, including those who are aged 40 years or over, are overweight, have a family history of type 2 diabetes or are known to have had polycystic ovary syndrome.

Women with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Melanesian, Polynesian, Chinese, South and Southeast Asian, Middle Eastern or Indian background are also more at risk.

“Many of these factors are non-modifiable but there are a number of things we can do to ensure pregnant women are in the best shape possible to reduce their risk of developing the condition,” explains Associate Prof Ross.

How to manage and treat gestational diabetes

A healthy diet, regular exercise, checking your blood glucose levels and taking tablets or insulin if needed, will all help keep your blood glucose levels in a healthy range and reduce the risks to you and your baby, say the experts.

Meghan Trainor told Today she was working with a personal trainer and had made changes to her diet to help manage the condition.

“Of course you want to perfect pregnancy and it’s natural to be worried but look at your diagnosis as being the first step towards reducing any chances of complications,” Associate Prof Ross says.

“The majority of mums with gestational diabetes go on to have a healthy pregnancy, normal delivery and healthy baby.”

Get more information at Diabetes Australia.

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Written by Liz McGrath.