Gestational diabetes occurs when a woman is diagnosed with diabetes for the first time during pregnancy. It causes high blood sugar and can lead to complications for the mother and baby, including birth injuries and cerebral palsy. Recent information from a national analysis shows that gestational diabetes is on the rise, which means more women and babies are at risk.
About Gestational Diabetes
Gestational diabetes is a common complication of pregnancy. It is a type of diabetes that happens during gestation, or pregnancy. A woman who has never been diabetic can develop high blood sugar during pregnancy. It most often occurs during the middle of gestation.
Many women can manage the condition with lifestyle changes, including a healthy diet and regular exercise. Others need insulin to keep blood sugar levels under control.
Doctors have not always taken gestational diabetes seriously because it often resolves after the woman gives birth. However, there are potential complications that can impact the health and even the life of the mother and the baby.
A Growing, and Alarming, Trend
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the prevalence of gestational diabetes increased by 30% from 2016 to 2020. Nearly 8% of pregnant women experienced this complication in 2020.
The analysis did not investigate the reasons for the increase, but experts agree on a few possible causes. Mostly, it is likely that there has been an increase in risk factors for gestational diabetes. These include being overweight, obesity, and an older maternal age.
The COVID pandemic might have contributed to the increase as many women were more sedentary and put on weight during the lockdown. Unrelated to the pandemic, maternal age continues to rise as many women wait to have children until they are older.
There could also be other factors at play that researchers don’t understand because the incidence went up even for women who are not overweight. There are also differences by race and ethnicity. Asian women had the highest rates of gestational diabetes.
Gestational Diabetes and Birth Injuries
The rise in gestational diabetes is alarming because it puts women at risk for complications and babies at risk for birth injuries and other health issues. Women who have gestational diabetes are seven times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later.
A very serious complication is high blood pressure and preeclampsia in the mother. These are very serious conditions. If not managed, they can cause a stroke in the mother during labor and delivery or premature birth of the baby.
For the baby, gestational diabetes increases the risk of a birth injury, such as the brain damage that leads to cerebral palsy. In addition to the increased chance of being born early, gestational diabetes can cause macrosomia, an abnormally large baby.
A larger baby can lead to complications during pregnancy. Most importantly, a large baby can get stuck in the birth canal. This can cause shoulder dystocia, nerve damage, and Erb’s or Klumpke’s palsy. It can even lead to asphyxiation and brain damage in the baby.
Gestational diabetes doesn’t have to cause complications and birth injuries. If doctors counsel women to make healthy lifestyle choices, test for diabetes regularly and manage it diligently if it occurs, the risks are low. If a doctor does not provide adequate care and a woman doesn’t receive care for diabetes, they can be liable for negligent harm caused to her and her baby.