Gestational diabetes (GD) is a metabolic condition which occurs during pregnancy. It's important to know what the gestational diabetes symptoms are, because it can impact your birth and your newborn.
Like other types of diabetes, GD affects your insulin and blood sugar levels. Unlike other forms of diabetes, GD is a temporary condition that occurs only during pregnancy, and you can expect a complete recovery with, or shortly after, the birth of your baby.
Having GD, however, increases your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, which is a chronic condition.
In some areas, GD screening is a routine component of pregnancy care. Early prenatal bloodwork checks your glucose and A1C levels to see whether you might already be at risk for GD. It’s possible, though rare, to develop GD early in pregnancy.
Depending on your maternity care provider and location, a routine GD screening is also performed at around 28 weeks of pregnancy. You consume a large amount of glucose and then your blood is tested to see how your body responds. If you don't pass this test, a longer test is performed. If you fail the longer test, you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes.
In other places, GD testing is not done routinely. Only those at risk, or with gestational diabetes symptoms, take a glucose test.
Gestational Diabetes Symptoms
Regardless of your type of care, early detection and management of gestational diabetes is necessary for a healthy pregnancy and birth.
Many women can have gestational diabetes without symptoms, which is why routine screening exists. But some women will experience a range of symptoms, which should be reported to their care provider.
Here are four gestational diabetes symptoms to be aware of:
Gestational Diabetes Symptom #1: Excessive Thirst
During pregnancy, your appetite and thirst can change quite significantly.
This makes it challenging to distinguish between typical pregnancy symptoms and symptoms which might be of concern.
If you find you are quite parched, regardless of how much you drink, it’s a good idea to mention this to your maternity care provider.
Gestational Diabetes Symptom #2: Excessive Urination
It makes sense that if you have excessive thirst, and drink accordingly, that you will also have excessive urination. However, sometimes excessive urination can occur with diabetes, even if your fluid intake hasn’t greatly increased.
Certainly, just being pregnant can lead to increased urination. But if you notice a big change in your regular urination pattern, you should mention it to your maternity care provider. Changes in urination can also be an indicator for a UTI (urinary tract infection), or just another joy of pregnancy. If you talk to your provider about it, however, you will know whether you need to address it, or just survive it until your pregnancy is over.
Gestational Diabetes Symptom #3: Extreme Fatigue
I’m sure you’re thinking, “I’m pregnant, of course I have fatigue!” However, significant increases in tiredness during your pregnancy can be indicative of gestational diabetes, anemia/low iron, or other complications.
Pay attention to your symptoms. If you’re resting well, eating nutritious meals, and not feeling ill, but you are increasingly fatigued, be sure to mention it to your midwife or obstetrician. If you notice a significant increase in fatigue following meals, or if you feel fatigued between meals, it could be a sign of unstable blood sugar levels.
Gestational Diabetes Symptom #4: Recurring Or Persistent Thrush/Yeast Infections
Candida, which is responsible for vaginal and oral thrush/yeast infections, thrives on excess sugar. When you have gestational diabetes with uncontrolled blood sugars, you’re likely to have excess sugar in your body; the sugar will feed the candida and cause overgrowth. We all have some candida; it is the overgrowth that causes infections and symptoms.
While excess candida can be common during pregnancy (seems to be a recurring theme here with these symptoms), the inability to get candida under control might be indicative of a blood sugar issue, which could mean gestational diabetes.
Find out how to prevent and get rid of thrush.
Controlling Gestational Diabetes
While many of these symptoms can be explained by pregnancy, the combination and severity of them can be indicative of health issues. If you have any concerns about gestational diabetes, or other health concerns, it’s always important to bring them up with your midwife or obstetrician.
If you’re diagnosed with GD, although it increases some risks during your pregnancy, controlling your GD with diet and exercise (and medication when necessary), can reduce risks associated with it and help you to have a healthy pregnancy and birth.
If you’re still early in your pregnancy, you can reduce your risk of developing GD by remaining or becoming active, eating a healthy diet of whole foods, and eliminating processed sugars (low fat foods including milk are often higher in sugar than full fat) and grains (for example bread, pasta, biscuits and cereals). Eating enough fresh veggies, greens, good fats and protein will help you to feel full and regulate blood sugar levels.
We know (and plenty of credible research tells us), that diet, exercise and lifestyle factors are huge contributing factors to Gestational Diabetes. Obesity is a big risk factor and family history with diabetes is also something to consider.
An obstetric medical specialist who has scanned around 5,000 women with gestational diabetes says the vast majority of women he sees with GD have a BMI (body mass index) of 35 or over, and obesity is an issue.
Also, around 70% of women with gestational diabetes are not put on insulin. Advice given to those women is to make changes to their diet. So we know what we eat (or have eaten) plays a huge role in the health outcomes of pregnancy. It can be a difficult thing to hear, especially if you do try hard to get active and eat well. However, this is what we know to be true, and it certainly isn't an attack on the choices a woman has made.
Unfortunately, not all care providers are well versed (or have a good understanding) of the nutritional and dietary needs for gestational diabetes, so it can be useful to obtain a referral to a skilled nutritionist or dietician. There is so much conflicting and confusing advice out there, and it's hard to know what you should and shouldn't eat when you're confused. However, low GI is very important, and a paleo/primal style of eating is well suited to this condition.
While pregnancy isn’t a time for crash or fad diets, paying attention to your overall diet and weight gain during pregnancy can reduce your risk of developing GD. Help is out there, but the right advice can sometimes be a little harder to come by.