The test for gestational diabetes involves drinking a very sweet glucose solution. A blood sample is taken after one hour to measure the effects of the glucose. If the test comes back positive, the obstetrician monitors the mom-to-be closely.
"Since mothers who are diagnosed with gestational diabetes are at risk of developing preeclampsia and tend to deliver overweight infants, they undergo more ultrasounds to check on the baby's development and blood tests," says Dr. Jane L. Davis, MD, associate program director, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology Residency Program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California. Even if the test comes back normal, these at-risk moms-to-be are usually retested later in the pregnancy.
During a pregnancy, high blood sugar levels can pass through the placenta to the developing baby, increasing the risk of birth defects. Uncontrolled blood sugar can also affect a growing baby, since the extra sugar goes through the placenta to the baby, adding to the fetus's weight.
According to the American Diabetes Association, a developing baby's pancreas will make extra insulin to balance out the extra sugar from a diabetic mom. When the baby is born, his pancreas may not stop creating this extra insulin.
A diabetic pregnant woman's blood sugar levels are checked frequently, and if they are kept in a near normal range, the chances of having a healthy pregnancy and delivery are often as good as those for a non-diabetic women. "It is so important for women with diabetes to get their blood glucose level under control, through diet and exercise, prior to conception," says Dr. Davis.
"Women with poor control of their diabetes at the time of conception have a higher risk of having a pregnancy complicated by birth defects," states Dr. Geeta K. Swaamy, MD, associate, Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine at Duke University Medical Center's Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology in Durham, North Carolina.
The medical community stresses that for a woman with diabetes to achieve a healthy pregnancy, she must keep her condition well monitored and under control. "Adequate glucose control is achieved through dietary modification and management, exercise, and anti-hyperglycemic agents such as oral tablets or insulin," says Dr. Swaamy. Pregnant diabetics are monitored closely throughout pregnancy through the use of ultrasound. "Obstetrical ultrasounds are performed more frequently in order to monitor fetal growth, usually every four weeks," says Dr. Swaamy.