Gestational Diabetes Blog: GDM Explained

Last Updated on by Kari Garner, MS RDN LD CDCES

Embarking on the journey of motherhood comes with a multitude of experiences, and for some moms-to-be, navigating gestational diabetes becomes part of that journey.  In my gestational diabetes blog hub, I break down all of the the basics of to offer valuable insights and empowering information for expectant mothers. 

From understanding common concepts to practical tips for managing this condition, my goal is to provide a gestational diabetes 101 guide to simplify any complexities.

This is meant for any mom looking to be well-informed and equipped to handle gestational diabetes throughout her pregnancy!

Diabetes 101

Before we dive into the contents of this guide, let’s break down a few diabetes basics. 

The definitions below are how I explain the following concepts to my clients to enhance understanding and eliminate confusion around diabetes care.

  • Insulin: A hormone that helps glucose get into your cells to give them energy. It is the hormone that brings elevated blood sugar down to normal levels.
  • Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are the sugars we eat that make blood sugar go up.
  • Blood glucose: Blood glucose or blood sugar is the amount of sugar in our blood stream at any given moment.
  • Pancreas: An organ that makes insulin and other hormones needed to regulate blood sugar levels.
  • Liver: An organ that stores sugar and can affect blood sugar by putting sugar into the bloodstream if there is not enough.
  • Hypoglycemia: Hypoglycemia (also known as low blood sugar) occurs when there is not enough glucose in your bloodstream for your body to optimally function. Blood sugar is under 70 mg/dL.
  • Hyperglycemia: Hyperglycemia (also known as high blood sugar) is a condition when there is too much glucose in the bloodstream. Blood sugar is over 180 mg/dL.
  • Fasting Plasma Glucose (FPG): A blood test to measure a person’s blood sugar level after fasting for at least 8 hours.
  • Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT): A test completed in a fasted state to determine your body’s ability to absorb glucose.
  • B-cells: B-cells or beta cells are cells located in the pancreas that are responsible for the storage, production and release of insulin.

What is Gestational Diabetes?

Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) is a condition that can develop in women during pregnancy who do not already have diabetes.

It is when your body cannot make enough insulin during pregnancy, resulting in a state of chronic high blood sugars that can be harmful to both the mother and child.

GDM is often a symptom of underlying β-cell dysfunction, which is why you will see the increased risk of the mother and child developing diabetes later in life.

B-cells or beta cells are cells located in the pancreas that are responsible for the storage, production and release of insulin.

If you have gestational diabetes, your baby is at a higher risk of being very large at birth, being born early, having low blood sugar, and ultimately developing type 2 diabetes down the road.

However, by monitoring food choices, amounts consumed and timing of meals you can nourish both yourself and your baby while successfully managing blood sugars!

diabetes care items- gluometer, lancet device, medication, needs and blood sugar log

Fast Facts about Gestational Diabetes

  • It is not your fault that you have gestational diabetes.
  • According to the American Diabetes Association, up to 10% of pregnancies are impacted by gestational diabetes each year. 
  • Gestational diabetes is manageable with lifestyle changes such as adopting a balanced eating pattern and engaging in daily movement. 
  • Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy when the body cannot produce enough insulin to meet the increased needs. 
  • Hormones produced by the placenta can lead to insulin resistance as the pregnancy progresses requiring the expectant mother to monitor blood sugar levels closely once diagnosed. 
  • If left unmanaged, gestational diabetes can pose risks to both the mother and baby. 
  • Babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes may be larger, but this is not always the case. 
  • Gestational diabetes increases the likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. 
  • A balanced diet that includes complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, healthy fats and lean protein is essential for keeping blood sugars balanced. 

Not only can regular doctor visits and routine lab tests help to balance pregnancy blood sugar levels, but many of the adverse effects are also preventable when treatment plans are established.

That is why I created my Education Session and Diabetes Diet Discovery as resources to help support you during your pregnancy journey and beyond.

How Gestational Diabetes is Diagnosed

Gestational diabetes involves specific screening tests during pregnancy during the second or third trimester to assess blood sugar levels. 

Most women will undergo an initial test known as the glucose challenge or oral glucose tolerance test between 24-28 weeks of gestation. 

This test checks blood sugars before and an hour after drinking approximately 75g of glucose. If this initial test result is 190 mg/dL or higher then it may be recommended for a follow-up glucose tolerance test. 

The follow-up test requires fasting overnight then drinking a more concentrated glucose solution as blood samples are taken every hour for three hours to measure glucose levels. If at least two of the three readings are higher than expected, gestational diabetes is diagnosed. 

Symptoms

Gestational diabetes often does not present with noticeable symptoms, which is why screening has become part of routine care. 

In some cases, women will experience subtle signs or symptoms, which may include:

  • Frequent urination
  • Increased thirst
  • Unintentional weight loss or difficult gaining weight 
  • Increased hunger
  • Blurry Vision
  • Fatigue

Risk Factors 

Some women may have risk factors that make them more susceptible to being diagnosed with gestational diabetes during pregnancy. 

These risk factors include:

  • Being overweight or obese before pregnancy 
  • Family history 
  • Age greater than 25 years 
  • Certain ethnic backgrounds such as African-American, Hispanic, Native American or Asian American 

Routine prenatal care and adherence to physician recommendations are essential to manage this condition effectively.

Gestational Diabetes Support

There is not a one-size-fits-all treatment. It is best to take a personalized approach and work with a team who can support you each step of the way. 

Every individual is at a different stage of their gestational diabetes journey.  We cannot expect that everyone will have the same treatment, medication or lifestyle plan.

Diabetes Care Team 

A diabetes care team is certainly essential for diabetes management because it is this group of providers that should be working to support you each and every day. This team may include:

  • Endocrinologist
  • Obstetrician (OB)
  • Nurse(s)
  • Registered Dietitian/Certified Diabetes Educator
  • Dentist
  • Podiatrist
  • Counselor
  • Ophthalmologist
  • Social Worker

Your diabetes care team should know your routine and challenges in life and be there to support you in finding your approach to diabetes management.

Gestational Diabetes Monitoring

Monitoring gestational diabetes involves keeping an eye on blood sugar levels to ensure they stay within the target range throughout pregnancy. 

If you are given a glucometer or glucose meter by your physician, this is a tool that can help you monitor levels at home. It involves pricking your fingertip to obtain a small blood sample and measuring at various times during the day. 

It is especially important to verify with your healthcare team the frequency and specific timing of these finger checks as it can vary depending on individual circumstances. 

Related: Gestational Diabetes Blog: GDM Explained

Lifestyle Changes 

It is no secret that exercise and proper nutrition are important for your health.

However, it is extremely important that you work with your diabetes care team to determine the level of exercise needed for your body and the specific gestational diabetes meals you need for blood sugar management.

Related: The Best Gestational Diabetes Desserts

Exercise can be very effective for some people but not as effective with others. Just like some people do very well with a moderate amount of carbohydrates each day, other people may get low blood sugars from the same amount of carbs.

Again, this is more evidence that there is not a one-size-fits all approach to diabetes management. 

pregnant women, physician and glucometer

Explore More:

Flourish with Diabetes!

If you are ready to take the leap and transform your health, check out my Resources Page. I can help you grow & flourish with diabetes!

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Springtime Nutrition, LLC was founded on my passion to partner with individuals to eliminate the stress, frustration and overwhelm of changing their nutrition lifestyle. I am committed to supporting you at every step of your journey. Ready to transform your life?  Get started today!


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Certified Diabetes Care & Education Specialist/ Registered Dietitian/ Owner / Springtime Nutrition, LLC

Kari is a diabetes expert with more than 18 years of experience. Kari currently works as a diabetes educator with a large hospital system in Charleston, SC and is committed to improving the lives of people with any type of diabetes.

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