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Pregnancy Glucose Screening: What To Expect

Before you deliver your little bundle of joy, you will have many tests along the way, including a glucose screening for gestational diabetes. 

Gestational diabetes, which usually appears late in the second trimester, often has few or no symptoms, but it can have major health consequences for mother and baby if not identified and treated early. 

What Is Gestational Diabetes? 

Nearly 10 percent of pregnancies in the U.S. are affected by gestational diabetes each year, according to the American Diabetes Association. Defined by higher-than-normal blood sugar levels, gestational diabetes forms when the mother’s body doesn’t produce adequate amounts of insulin in response to the placental hormones, which creates a resistance to insulin. 

This can result in a number of health challenges to both baby and mother, even after delivery. Those include: 

  • Large birth weight. This can cause complications, including premature delivery due to size, injuries from narrow birth canals and cesarean section deliveries.

  • Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS), which is breathing difficulties for the baby because of early delivery.

  • Low blood sugar in the newborn, also called neonatal hypoglycemia, can lead to complications such as breathing problems, irritability, vomiting and seizures.

  • Type 2 diabetes. Both babies and mothers with gestational diabetes are at increased risk of developing obesity and Type 2 diabetes later in life.

  • Increased risk of preeclampsia, a complication characterized by high blood pressure. 

Glucose Screening Basics 

Because the symptoms of gestational diabetes — increased thirst, fatigue, frequent urination — are subtle and easily attributed to other factors, your doctor will order a routine glucose screening test when you are 24 to 28 weeks pregnant to check your blood sugar levels. 

There are two levels of glucose testing:

  • Glucose challenge (screening) test - This initial test involves drawing a blood sample an hour after drinking a sugary liquid. Normal blood sugar levels are equal to or below 140 mg/dL. 

  • Oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT) - This secondary test is required if your initial screening test results are above 140 mg/dL. It involves fasting for eight hours, drinking the same sugary liquid and then having blood drawn every hour (including a fasting blood draw) for three hours. Having two or more elevated levels indicates gestational diabetes. 

I Have Gestational Diabetes. Now What? 

If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, your first two lines of defense are diet and exercise. Your diet should include: 

  • Whole fruits and vegetables

  • Lean protein and healthy fats, such as chicken and fish

  • Moderate amounts of whole grains, such as bread, pasta and rice

  • Limited starchy vegetables, like corn and peas

  • Limited sugary foods such as juice, pastries and soft drinks 

Talk to your doctor to determine an exercise plan that’s safe for you and your baby. This might include low-impact workouts like walking, yoga and swimming. Exercise not only helps mitigate gestational diabetes but also reduces stress, back pain and the risk of preeclampsia. 

It’s possible, though, that you may need a little more help in the form of insulin shots and monitoring throughout the rest of your pregnancy. Gestational diabetes, if caught early, is generally temporary and easily corrected. The best approach is a proactive one. 

Speak to your doctor to see if you are at risk because of your weight, or personal or family history. You can also reduce your risk of gestational diabetes by losing weight before getting pregnant. Take measures to be sure you are providing your baby, and yourself, the proper prenatal care.

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