Diabetes: High blood sugar in pregnancy – risks for mum and baby

Diabetes type 2: Dr Zoe Williams discusses high blood sugar risks

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The charity Diabetes UK stated that high blood sugar is usually diagnosed from a blood test taken between 24 to 28 weeks into pregnancy. Many mums are unaware until this point that they have the condition, as symptoms can be slight. Fatigue and needing the loo more frequently are to be expected in pregnancy, but both can be signs of gestational diabetes. The NHS confirmed warning signs of hyperglycaemia (when blood sugar is too high) in expectant mothers:

  • Increased thirst
  • Needing to pee more often than usual
  • A dry mouth
  • Tiredness.

“Speak to your midwife or doctor if you’re worried about any symptoms you’re experiencing,” the NHS advised.

The risks of high blood sugar in pregnancy for you

Your baby may grow larger than usual, which may lead to birthing difficulties; examples include induced labour or a caesarean (C) section.

There may be too much amniotic fluid – the fluid that surrounds the baby in the womb – which can also lead to premature labour and problems at delivery.

The health risks for your baby

A premature birth – one that occurs before the 37th week of pregnancy –means your baby is vulnerable and may need to taken care of in the neonatal unit once it’s born.

“They may have health and development problems because they have not fully developed in the womb,” the NHS explained.

High blood sugar during pregnancy can also lead to pre-eclampsia – a condition that causes high blood pressure.

This health complication can be picked up via a blood pressure reading and the protein in your urine.

Sometimes, a women with pre-eclampsia might experience:

  • Swelling of the feet, ankles, face and hands caused by fluid retention
  • Severe headache
  • Vision problems
  • Pain just below the ribs.

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These signs require a prompt call to your midwife, GP surgery, or NHS 111.

“There’s a risk of serious complications that can affect both the mother and her baby,” the NHS warned.

Although rare, there’s a risk the mother will experience a fit, which can be life-threatening for mum and baby.

Gestational diabetes can also cause the baby to develop low blood sugar or be born with jaundice – yellowing of the eyes and skin.

In extremely rare – and sad – cases, there’s a possibility of a stillbirth.

If you have gestational diabetes, controlling your blood sugar levels is crucial for the health of yourself and your baby.

“You’ll be given a blood sugar testing kit so you can monitor the effects of treatment,” said the NHS.

Most women will be advised to test their blood sugar before breakfast and one hour after each meal.

Pregnant women who are diagnosed with gestational diabetes should be referred to a dietician.

Common recommendations include eating three meals every day, with starchy and low glycemic index (GI) foods that release sugar slowly.

Examples of low GI foods:

  • Wholewheat pasta
  • Brown rice
  • Granary bread
  • All-bran cereals
  • Pulses
  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Muesli
  • Plain porridge.

A healthy diet will also consist of plenty of fruit and vegetables, lean sources of protein, and the avoidance of sugary foods and drinks.

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