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Health Questions

Gestational diabetes - self-care

What Is Gestational Diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is high blood sugar (glucose) that happens during pregnancy. Usually there are no symptoms. But gestational diabetes may: 

  • Cause mild symptoms, such as increased thirst or shakiness. These symptoms are usually not life threatening to the pregnant woman. 
  • Cause a woman to have a larger baby. This can increase the chance of problems with the delivery.
  • Cause a higher risk of high blood pressure during pregnancy.

How Is It Managed?

  • A healthy diet can keep your blood sugar controlled and may keep you from needing medicine. Your doctor, nurse, or dietitian will create a diet just for you. Your health care provider may ask you to keep track of what you eat. Do not drink alcohol while you are pregnant.
  • Exercise will help keep your blood sugar under control. Walking is usually the easiest type of exercise. Try walking 1 - 2 miles at a time, 3 or more times per week. Swimming or other low-impact exercises can work just as well. Ask your health care provider what type of exercise, and how much, is best for you.
  • Medications can help control gestational diabetes. Most women with gestational diabetes will not need diabetes medicines or insulin. 
  • But if changing your diet does not control blood sugar levels, you may need oral medication (taken by mouth) or insulin therapy (shots).

Checking Your Blood Sugar

You can see how well you are doing by testing your glucose level at home. Your doctor may ask you to check your blood sugar once or more each day.

The most common way to check is by pricking your finger for a drop of blood. Then, the blood drop is placed in a monitor (testing machine). If the monitor gives you a number that is too high or too low, you will need to get your blood sugar stable. 

Your health care providers will follow your blood sugar levels with you. Make sure you know what blood sugar level should be.

Visits and Tests for You and Your Baby

Your health care provider will closely check both you and your baby throughout the pregnancy. This will include:

  • Visits with your doctor every week
  • Ultrasounds that show the size of your baby
  • A non-stress test that shows whether or not your baby is doing well

After Your Delivery

Women with gestational diabetes should be watched closely after giving birth. They should also continue to get checked at doctor's appointments for signs of diabetes.

High blood sugar (glucose) levels often go back to normal after delivery. Still, many women with gestational diabetes develop diabetes within 5 - 10 years after giving birth. The risk is greater in obese women.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your health care provider for the following diabetes-related problems:

  • Your baby seems to be moving less in your belly
  • Blurred vision
  • More thirst than normal
  • Nausea and vomiting

References

Landon MB, Catalano PM, Gabbe SG. Diabetes mellitus complicating pregnancy. In: Gabbe SG, Niebyl JR, Simpson JL, et al, eds. Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2012:chap 39.


Review Date: 8/23/2012
Reviewed By: Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Bellevue, Washington; Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviEwed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
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