Sugar and spice may be nice for baby girls, but extra sugar in the bloodstream during pregnancy signals a condition that requires special medical attention.

During pregnancy, some women’s bodies will not make enough insulin for them to metabolize sugar the way they do when they are not pregnant, leaving extra glucose or sugar in the bloodstream. This is called gestational diabetes, a condition that has affected about 5% of pregnancies in the United States, a number that is rising because of a trend in obesity.

Erika F. Werner, MD, MS, with the Women & Infants Integrated Program for High-Risk Pregnancy, says much about gestational diabetes, including its cause, remains unknown. “What we do know is that as pregnancy progresses, the placenta makes a hormone that causes insulin resistance. Normally, the body responds by making extra insulin so it can continue to process sugar normally. If the body does not compensate as needed, you develop gestational diabetes,” she explains.

Untreated, gestational diabetes could be a problem for both the mother and baby. For the mother, it could lead to:

  • Pre-eclampsia, or high blood pressure, during pregnancy
  • Preterm delivery
  • Higher chance of developing diabetes outside of pregnancy

The baby is also at risk for growth abnormalities, especially excessive growth, and stillbirth, Dr. Werner says.

Women who had gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy or have a history of giving birth to large babies are at increased risk, as are women who are overweight, older, have many family members with diabetes or are of Asian or American Indian descent.

All pregnant women between 24 and 28 weeks pregnancy are given a sugar drink test to determine if they have gestational diabetes. You may also be screened earlier in your pregnancy if you have multiple risk factors.

If diagnosed, Dr. Werner outlines a plan:

  • Meet with your physician, who may have you meet with a nutritionist.
  • Start checking your blood sugar in the morning when you wake up and after meals.
  • Switch to a diabetic diet, which controls gestational diabetes for many women; if it does not, you may need to start medication.

Read additional articles by Dr. Erika Werner with tips on how to avoid developing gestational diabetes and how to prepare for pregnancy when you have diabetes.

For more information about managing gestational diabetes, please contact the Women & Infants Integrated Program for High Risk Pregnancy at 401-453-7545.