"GDM is mostly caused by the woman’s normal pregnancy hormones (made by the baby’s placenta), which make her body somewhat resistant to the effects of insulin. Insulin is the hormone (the body’ schemical messenger) that lowers the levels of glucose in the blood by transporting it into the cells.
Insulin resistance means that the body is responding less to insulin (the door is not open as wide), and so less glucose enters the cell and more stays in the bloodstream, giving higher levels than usual. In pregnancy this is beneficial, as it leaves more glucose in the mother’s bloodstream,which makes more glucose available to the baby, who gets all the glucose needed for growth and development from the mother’s bloodstream, via the placenta. This transfer of glucose is dependent on the mother’s levels being higher than the baby’s.
The level of insulin resistance that an individual pregnant woman has depends on her own biochemistry and genetics, as well as her diet and activity levels. Some women, and some families, seem to get more insulin resistance than others in pregnancy, and this may reflect a slightly increased susceptibility to diabetes in later life. The baby also plays a part, because he/she can signal the mother’s body to increase glucose levels by producing more pregnancy hormones, giving more insulin resistance. As above, this is more likely to happen when the baby is big.
If the mother has a diet that includes a lot of carbohydrates with a high glycemic-index (ie foods that cause a rapid rise in blood glucose) and/or low levels of activity, her blood glucose may be higher and she may be more likely to be given this diagnosis.
So you can see that it is normal and healthy to have higher levels of glucose in pregnancy. However, when levels reach a certain point, a woman is at risk of being labeled with ‘impaired glucose tolerance’ (IGT, also called ‘pre diabetes’)and at even higher levels, with GDM."
Now that we know what it is, what does the medical community think about it? Is testing recommended?
"GDM is a very controversial diagnosis. Some experts in the area have called it ‘a diagnosis still looking for a disease’, a ‘non-entity’ and a ‘useless diagnosis’, while others think it is so important that every pregnant woman should be tested for it. Michel Odent believes that the diagnosis of GDM causes more harm than good by labeling the pregnant woman ‘high risk’ which increases her anxiety but has no benefits for her or her baby, as below.
The US Preventative Services has not recommended routine screening and a Canadian committee of experts also concluded, ‘Until evidence is available from large randomised controlled trials that show a clear benefit from screening for glucose intolerance in pregnancy, the option of not screening for GDM is considered acceptable.’ The UK-based Cochrane database, which has analyzed the best medical evidence, also concludes that there are no benefits to treating GDM, in terms of outcome for mother and baby, which makes the diagnosis also very questionable.
Some doctors are concerned that women with GDM are more likely to have a very large (‘macrosomic’) baby, and it is true that there is an association between GDM and large babies. However, these large babies can be explained by other factors,such as the mother being overweight. Medical treatment does not seem to change this significantly, and it seems more likely that the size of the baby is causing the GDM, (because a big baby needs more glucose and so makes more hormones to increase insulin resistance) rather than GDM causing a big baby.
International studies show that the only major outcome from making this diagnosis is to increase the risk of a caesarean."
What can you do to avoid it?
While there are several factors that can make it more likely to have GD (weight, race, other health factors), there are some things you can do.
1. Eat a balanced diet, with plenty of protein, low-GI carbs, and quality fats
What happens if I have it?
Treatment options vary depending on the severity of diagnosis. One thing you CAN plan on, however, is that your plans for a natural birth will likely be affected. The baby will be monitored more closely, and may be given an iv immediately after birth, preventing early breast feeding. On the bright side, you CAN push for other options to help your baby. According to La Leche League: “The best way to stabilize blood sugar and prevent hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) in all infants is prompt and frequent feedings of colostrum and human milk.”
And to bring it full circle:
I was pretty sure my midwife would recommend that I NOT have this test. She told me the opposite: for people planning home births or birthing center births, she doesn't recommend testing unless one is experiencing severe symptoms. HOWEVER, for those having a natural, unmedicated, low-intervention hospital birth, it's best to have it. As she put it, "It can keep the hospital off our backs." In other words, being able to present a negative test result will help prevent unnecessary intervention, especially in the case of a slightly larger baby.
Guide to low GI foods
Comments by Michel Odent
Comments by Henci Goer
Low Blood sugar in newborn babies