Gestational Diabetes Effects on Baby

Gestational diabetes refers to excessively high blood sugar levels during pregnancy, which can lead to faulty glucose utilization by the body cells. The elevated blood sugar levels exert adverse effects not only on the health of the mother but also on the health of the baby. About 4% of the pregnancies are complicated by gestational diabetes. The condition happens during the later trimesters of pregnancy, and often occurs in women who have no previous personal history of diabetes. 

Gestational Diabetes Effects on Baby

Gestational diabetes has an unfavorable impact on the health of the baby which can lead to following conditions.

1.      Macrosomia

Macrosomia refers to excessive birth weight. This occurs because the high blood sugar in the maternal circulation traverses the placenta, and enters the fetal blood circulation. The excess glucose stimulates the baby’s pancreas to produce extra insulin, which causes irregular growth of the baby and high birth weight (macrosomia). Such babies are prone to injuries during delivery owing to the narrow size of the birth canal.

2.      Hypoglycemia

Since the pancreas of the babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes become overly active, the insulin level in such babies is exceptionally high. Immediately following birth, this high insulin level causes a steep decline in the blood sugar concentration of the babies. Serious hypoglycemia can even result in seizures. 

3.      Premature Birth

There is a high risk of preterm birth in women suffering from gestational diabetes. The lungs of premature babies are still developing, so they may suffer from respiratory problems such as respiratory distress syndrome. Early birth also puts the babies at high risk of neonatal jaundice. What's more, such premature babies are more likely to develop health problems in later stages of life as compared to full term babies.

4.      Type-2 Diabetes Risk

The risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life is another gestational diabetes effect on the baby. That is because obesity is a common complication encountered by babies born to women with gestational diabetes, while obesity is a risk factor for type-2 diabetes.

5.      Learning Disability

If the gestational diabetes is not controlled, the body will begin to metabolize fats in order to obtain energy. The breakdown products of fats are ketones which are harmful for the baby, and can put the baby at risk of congenital mental disabilities. Such babies tend to have a lower IQ and face learning difficulties.

6.      Other Effects on Baby

  • The babies can develop neuromuscular disorders with involuntary spasmodic movements of the hands and feet due to low calcium and magnesium levels in the body.
  • The chance of a stillbirth is high.

How to Prevent Side Effects on Baby

Certain preventive measures can be employed to prevent the adverse gestational diabetes effects on baby, the most important of which is keeping your diabetes under control.

1.      Exercise Regularly

Exercising for about 2.5 hours a week can help regulate the blood sugar. You can reach this goal by staying active for at least 30 minutes a day and 5 days a week. Moderate exercises like swimming help improve the sensitivity of the cells to the action of insulin, which will lead to a decline in blood sugar levels. It is imperative to consult the obstetrician about the appropriate excises for different stages of pregnancy.

2.      Measure Blood Glucose

Women should be able to check their blood sugar levels by themselves at home. Measuring blood sugar regularly helps keep an eye on the disease progress. This can help motivate them to be more vigilant about their condition, and can help them relax knowing that their sugar is well controlled.

3.      Observe Fetal Growth

Watching the baby’s growth can help assess the baby’s overall health status. This can be done by monitoring the “kick counts” which is the number of times the baby moves its limbs. Consult the doctor at once in case of any unusual increase or decrease in the fetal movements. Regular fetal ultrasounds and non-stress test are other ways of keeping an eye on the fetal growth.

4.      Get Medical Checkups

Gestational diabetes makes the pregnancy a high risk one, for which visiting the obstetrician regularly becomes even more crucial. Blood sugar, blood pressure and urine testing are commonly done during these visits besides monitoring the fluctuations in the body weight and the nutritional status.

5.      Receive Medical Treatments

Diabetes medications are extremely important for controlling blood sugar and should not be missed. If the blood sugar is too high, you may even receive insulin shots.

6.      Eat a Balanced Diet

Consult a registered dietician for coming up with a meal plan for keeping your blood sugar levels within a strict limit. Women with gestational diabetes should curb the intake of carbs, but consume enough calories and essential nutrients for the baby.

The meal plan is adjusted according to the body mass index of the woman. In pregnant women of average weight, the recommended daily amount of calories is 2,200 to 2,500, while overweight women only need to consume 1800 calories.

An ideal meal plan, as recommended by a dietician, should focus on the following guidelines.

  • 10 to 20% of the calories should come from proteins like eggs, cheeses, and legumes.
  • Fats should constitute less than 30% of the calorie intake.
  • Your calorie consumption from saturated fats should be less than 10%.
  • 40% of remaining calorie requirements should be fulfilled from carbohydrates such as cereals, rice, fruits, and vegetables.

Note: In order to minimize the risk of hypoglycemia and to avoid the harmful gestational diabetes effects on baby, it is essential to feed the baby within 30 minutes after birth. The heel prick blood test should be done 2-4 hours after delivery to determine the blood sugar levels in the baby’s circulation. Extra monitoring is required for babies with irregular blood sugar.

 
 
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