What’s so bad about a large baby? The experts at Burjeel Hospital lift the lid on how a mum-to-be can find her blood sugar levels soar during this delicate time.
Every mother-to-be hopes her pregnancy will be a happy, healthy and fulfilling time for her. But an expectant mum can be exposed to high blood sugar levels throughout her pregnancy. Many mums-to-be might be surprised to learn that they can be diagnosed with gestational diabetes at the start of their term. This can put their babies at risk, but you can help reduce the chances of it developing into an issue for you and your baby.
Insulin, a hormone produced by your pancreas, is necessary to move glucose (or sugar) into your cells after your body breaks down food for energy.
During pregnancy, your body becomes less sensitive to the effects of insulin, which can lead to what is known as gestational diabetes. If you have gestational diabetes, your blood sugar can become too high, creating a number of health risks for your baby. Health risks include:
This term simply means “big baby” and applies to any baby whose birth weight is above 4kg. A baby with macrosomia can experience difficulties during the childbirth process. The most common problem that big babies encounter is damage to the nerves and muscles in their shoulders during vaginal delivery (shoulder dystocia). Your doctor will monitor the size of your baby by performing ultrasound exams throughout your pregnancy. If your doctor is concerned about the size of your baby, a Caesarean section may be recommended.
If your unborn baby is exposed to high blood sugar levels while in the womb, the baby will eventually make extra insulin on its own to deal with the excess sugar. This surge in insulin can cause the baby’s glucose to drop sharply right after birth, a condition called “hypoglycemia”. Low blood sugar is dangerous because your baby depends almost exclusively on glucose for energy at the time of birth. Signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia include seizures, sluggishness, and difficulty breathing. Doctors will check your baby’s blood glucose right after birth. If the glucose level is low, your baby will be given a sugar solution until the blood levels stabilise.
Giving birth before the 37th week of pregnancy
This is a yellow discoloration of your baby’s skin caused by bilirubin, a pigment produced when red blood cells break down. Many newborn babies have jaundice but the condition is more common in babies whose mothers have gestational diabetes. Babies with jaundice may be weak and have trouble feeding. Your baby’s blood will be tested for bilirubin. A special light that gets rid of the bilirubin pigment may be used to treat your baby.
Gestational diabetes will usually go away after your baby is born, but there are long-term effects that may affect your child in the short-term or over a longer period. These include:
The observation that children of mothers who had diabetes during their pregnancy are at higher risk for being overweight was first recognised decades ago. This link between gestational diabetes and childhood obesity is now well-established.
Type 2 diabetes
Studies show that both you and your baby have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes at some point. Type 2 diabetes, the most common form of diabetes, is typically caused by insulin resistance that prevents your body from using glucose properly. Being overweight increases the risk of type 2 diabetes.
If your gestational diabetes is poorly controlled, your body may start to rely on fat and muscle tissue, rather than glucose, as a source of energy. This can result in breakdown products known as “ketones”. Some studies suggest that exposure to ketones can cause babies to have lower IQs and learning problems later in life.
Finally, remember that good nutrition and exercise are the best ways to reduce the risk of obesity and diabetes for both you and your child. Be a good example and enjoy a healthy future together.