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Gestational Diabetes and Bearing Bigger Babies

Posted by Lara Salahi  August 20, 2013 01:06 PM

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Around week 24 of pregnancy, your doctor will likely ask you to drink a highly sweetened Tang-like beverage. Some forms of the drink are fruity flavored, but I remember still needing to hold my nose and swallow. 

After an hour, a blood sample is taken from your arm and tested for your sugar level.  

That drink actually contains 50 grams of sugar, and your doctor is testing how well your body has processed the sugar within that amount of time. It’s called an oral glucose tolerance test and the results can determine whether you have gestational diabetes mellitus, or GDM.

(If you have previously been diagnosed with the condition, your doctor may have you take this test by week 13.)   

GDM is the “pregnant version” of some forms of diabetes since it involves the way your cells break down sugar. An estimated 18 percent of pregnant women develop the condition, according to the American Diabetes Association.

Remember hearing last month about 13-pound baby Jasleen who was born naturally in a German hospital to a mother diagnosed with the condition? 

Don’t worry mama-to-be. Baby Jasleen is an anomaly. Not all babies whose mothers have gestational diabetes are born that large. However, mounting evidence suggests that heavier babies are on the rise so too is the risk for gestational diabetes. 

Within the last three decades there has been a 15 to 25 percent increase in babies weighing 8 pounds 13 ounces or more, which categorizes a baby as over-sized, according to a
February report published in the journal Lancet.

During pregnancy, it’s common for your blood pressure and sugar to be higher than your pre-pregnancy levels. But gestational diabetes is diagnosed when sugar levels have reached a certain threshold and your body finds it difficult to break sugar down.  Women who are overweight, over age 25, or have previously given birth to a baby over 9 pounds are at a higher risk for the condition.

Gestational diabetes occurs when your body’s hormones keep you from making and using the insulin you need during pregnancy. Without enough insulin, sugar cannot leave the blood and be changed to energy. So sugar levels in your blood reach high levels.  Hormone levels change in all women during pregnancy, but doctors aren’t really sure what causes the condition in some mothers and not others.

A small study published Tuesday in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology found that pregnant with GDM may be nearly 7 times more likely to also have obstructive sleep apnea compared to other pregnant women. Poor sleep is common in pregnancy, but sleep apnea can raise the risk pregnancy-related complications such as preeclampsia and preterm delivery. 

Babies born to mothers with GDM may develop low blood sugar, jaundice, and be at risk for Type 2 diabetes later in life, according to the Mayo Clinic.   

Mothers who have GDM can avoid risks associated through a good diet, exercise, and in some cases medication.

For many mothers, gestational diabetes is temporary. Blood sugar levels usually return back to normal shortly after giving birth. 

For more information on GDM, read this printout by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Is there something you'd like me to write about? Like UltraSound Pregnancy on Facebook and leave a message or Email me

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Lara Salahi is an award-winning multimedia journalist whose specialty is reporting health and medical stories. She has worked in local, network, and cable television, international print, and documentary film. She More »

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