For a gestational diabetes diagnosis, acceptance is key
“Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that can develop during pregnancy in women who don’t already have diabetes,” she says.
Every year, 2% to 10% of pregnancies in the United States are affected by gestational diabetes. It occurs when your body can’t make enough insulin, the hormone made by your pancreas that helps your body use blood sugar for energy. Dr. Varrey explains that pregnancy can cause your body to become more insulin-resistant, leading to a gestational diabetes diagnosis. But, she says, there’s something important to remember.
“This doesn’t mean that you have diabetes forever. There’s a lot of stigma around a gestational diabetes diagnosis, but it’s normal for you to be more insulin-resistant during pregnancy.”
She emphasizes a gestational diabetes diagnosis is an opportunity to take control of your health.
“It’s a reminder that something needs to change, but it’s not a life sentence. Gestational diabetes goes away once you deliver your baby,” Dr. Varrey says.
Insulin injections are not usually necessary for gestational diabetes, Dr. Varrey explains. Lifestyle changes, like controlling your sugar levels and going for a 30-minute walk every day, are often enough to keep you and your baby healthy. However, ignoring the diagnosis or failing to take action to keep yourself healthy can lead to pregnancy complications.
“If you take no action, those really high sugar levels will affect the baby,” Dr. Varrey says. “The baby’s insulin levels will go up, which makes the baby grow larger than normal and can lead to complications during delivery. Babies with high sugar levels in utero are also much more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes as adults.”
Dr. Varrey says women with gestational diabetes are also at a higher risk for pre-eclampsia, which can lead to pre-term delivery.
There are typically no symptoms of gestational diabetes, and a diagnosis usually comes after a blood sugar test done between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy. Dr. Varrey says there are certain risk factors to be aware of, including a BMI greater than 25 (23 in Asian American women), having a relative who died of diabetes, high blood pressure, and/or having Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS). She says gestational diabetes is often a wakeup call for your health.
“If you’ve been diagnosed with gestational diabetes during pregnancy, it’s an indicator that you’re at a very high risk of developing diabetes later in life.”
Dr. Varrey says the main message she wants to convey to women who are diagnosed with gestational diabetes is it’s a chance to improve your life and take control of your health.
Dr. Varrey’s own blood sugar test came back higher than normal during her second pregnancy, and she understands the burden it can add to an already stressful time.
“Being pregnant is so hard, and being pregnant with diabetes is really hard, but I never would have made necessary improvements to my lifestyle without that diagnosis.”
Dr. Varrey says accepting the diagnosis is the best way to ensure a safe and healthy pregnancy for you and your baby.