As a diabetes educator, I always liked the idea of having diabetes for just a short period of time, to better understand the disease. As it turns out, I was granted this opportunity with an early diagnosis of gestational diabetes.
In Canada, about 3.7 per cent of non-Aboriginal and eight to 18 per cent of Aboriginal women get gestational diabetes.
As the name suggests, it is a form of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy.
Similar to other forms of diabetes, gestational diabetes is a problem with how the body makes and uses insulin.
Insulin is a hormone essential for moving sugar or glucose from food out of the bloodstream and into cells to be used for energy.
It also signals to the liver to stop breaking down glucose stores in periods of fasting (like when you are sleeping).
When a woman gets pregnant, her placenta makes a lot of hormones that work against insulin.
Furthermore, the weight gain and increased food intake required also influence insulin use and requirements.
For most pregnant women, their pancreas adapts to this increased insulin resistance by secreting more insulin and they are still able to keep blood sugar levels stable.
Unfortunately for women with gestational diabetes, the pancreas is unable to adapt to this increased workload.
Consequently, these women are prone to high blood sugars and need to be careful with their diet and exercise patterns and may even need to take extra insulin injections.
The main concern with high blood sugars during pregnancy is excess growth in the baby, which can increase risk of complications during delivery for both mother and infant.
Although gestational diabetes usually disappears after delivery, it is a risk factor for developing diabetes later in life.
“You are eating for two, you can get away with it!”
Unfortunately, what we are learning is that all pregnant women have some level of insulin resistance, and that pregnancy is actually the worst time to consume sweets and unhealthy food, whether you have gestational diabetes or not.
For me, having gestational diabetes has been a learning process on the effect of different food and activity patterns on my blood sugars, without the safety net of unlimited insulin production.
-Serena Caner is a registered dietician who works at Shuswap Lake General Hospital.