Can diabetes be harmful during pregnancy?

Yes, uncontrolled blood glucose levels during pregnancy can result in serious complications such as excessive birth weight, premature birth, serious breathing difficulties, low blood sugar levels, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and even stillbirth. Hence, expecting mothers should be aware of the potential risk factors and GDM prevention measures.

Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) is a risky medical condition characterized by rapid glucose intolerance and insulin resistance that is discovered for the first time during pregnancy. GDM is thought to be closely linked to and embedded with undesirable pregnancy complications, as well as the prevailing risk of developing T2DM in both the mother’s and the fetus’s future lives. Aside from that, blood glucose levels in the mother appear to have a significant positive correlation with the risk of severely impaired fetal development. Hence, this article compiles the risk factors for GDM, why the condition is risky for babies born to GDM mothers, and GDM prevention measures. 

Is pregnancy diabetes harmful?

Yes, uncontrolled gestational diabetes can result in complications for both the mother and her baby, such as excessive birth weight, premature birth, serious breathing difficulties, low blood sugar levels, obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and even stillbirth. To avoid these complications, expectant mothers should be aware of the primary risk factors for GDM. Risk factors include advanced maternal age, ethnicity, a history of gestational diabetes, and a family history of type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM). Despite the traditional emphasis on risk factors discovered during pregnancy, data show that risk factors discovered during the periconception and preconception periods also play a significant role in the development of GDM.

Why is GDM harmful to the child?

Gestational diabetes strikes the mother in late pregnancy, after the baby’s body has formed but before the baby begins to grow. However, untreated or poorly controlled gestational diabetes can be harmful to the baby. The increased risk of excessive childbirth weight in GDM is primarily due to the mother’s increased insulin resistance. In GDM, more blood glucose passes through the placenta into the baby’s blood circulation. As a result, extra glucose in the fetus is stored as body fat, resulting in macrosomia, also known as ‘large for gestational age’.  

Please remember that babies with macrosomia have their own health issues, including shoulder damage during birth. Because of the extra insulin produced by the baby’s pancreas, newborns may have very low blood glucose levels at birth, as well as an increased risk of breathing problems. Excess insulin in newborns increases the risk of obesity in children and type 2 diabetes in adults.

How can mothers avoid the risks of GDM?

When it comes to preventing gestational diabetes, there are no guarantees. Nonetheless, certain healthy habits that mothers can adopt before and during pregnancy can protect them and their babies from the harmful effects of GDM. These measures, which include eating high-fiber and low-fat foods, exercising regularly, and starting and maintaining pregnancy at a healthy weight, may help prevent complications caused by GDM.

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