Being diagnosed with gestational diabetes, also known as pregnancy diabetes, scares many future fathers and mothers. Diabetes that occurs during pregnancy affects 3% to 9% of pregnant women.

This article provides clarifications in layman’s terms but does not deal with women who were already diabetic before their pregnancy, as the explanations are not totally the same.

In this article:


What is gestational diabetes?

Like you already know, pregnancy comes with a lot of changes in a woman’s body. She is now carrying a small being that is growing and developing. Her body needs to adapt to this demanding renter to provide it with everything it needs.

The World Health Organisation defines gestational diabetes as a glucose tolerance disorder, of variable severity, emerging or diagnosed for the first time during pregnancy.

From 3% to 9% of pregnant women will be diagnosed with pregnancy diabetes, and this percentage varies if you look at data from American, Canadian sources and the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada (SOGC).

The First Trimester of Pregnancy

Just like for many systems, pregnancy hormones (estrogen and progesterone) will have an impact on the regulation of blood sugars in pregnant women. It destabilises the balance with the secretion of available insulin. Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas which manages the balance with glucose (or blood sugar). In other words, insulin neutralises blood sugar. That said, in general, from the start of pregnancy, there is an increase in the release of insulin associated with hormonal changes. This reduces blood sugar (glucose), and this explains why a newly pregnant woman can feel signs of hypoglycemia, such as:

  • Fatigue;
  • Dizziness;
  • Hunger;
  • Thirst;
  • Irritability.

You should also know that sugar is the primary fuel for the development of the fetus in utero, and this sugar comes from the mother via the placenta.

However, the mother’s insulin cannot pass through the placenta to the baby. Starting at around ten weeks, the baby will produce their own insulin to manage its mother’s glucose.

If the blood sugar (glucose) levels increase in the pregnant woman, it will also increase in the same way for the baby. This glucose level will force the baby to work harder to secrete enough insulin to maintain the proper balance.

Second and Third Trimester of Pregnancy

When the second trimester arrives, we note that pregnancy hormones increase their effect on the pancreas producing resistance to the release of insulin. In other words, the hormones counteract the effect of insulin neutralising blood sugar. There will then be an automatic increase in glucose in the pregnant woman’s body.

This occurs automatically in all pregnancy, and the goal is to provide the fetus with a high level of sugar to ensure its growth. However, the future mother’s body will adjust, producing up to three times the average level of insulin to compensate for the blockage caused by the pregnancy hormones.

In the vast majority of cases, the pregnant woman’s pancreas can secrete sufficient amounts of insulin to maintain an acceptable balance between glucose (sugar) levels and insulin. There are few cases where the pancreas cannot meet the demand, but when this occurs, gestational diabetes will be diagnosed.

To continue reading, go to Gestational Diabetes Screening Tests.

This post is also available in: Français

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