Gestational Diabetes Levels – what they mean?

Rebecca McPhee
Dietitian Member of the DAA


4 Minutes

If you have been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, you are possibly wondering what the blood sugar levels all mean, how you track your levels and what is the target range. This article aims to help you make sense of Gestational Diabetes levels and what they mean.    

 

What is gestational diabetes?  

 

Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy when the hormones produced by the placenta block the action of a women's insulin in regulating blood sugar levels. Irregular blood sugar levels can lead to some complications including early labour, bigger babies and high blood pressure for mums - among others. 

Gestational diabetes usually goes away when the baby is born; however, research shows that women who have had gestational diabetes are 50% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later in life.iii Further, if you have gestational diabetes in your first pregnancy, you have a 30-69% chance of it recurring in future pregnancies.

The good news is that in most cases, gestational diabetes can be managed to ensure a healthy mum and bub.  

Here, we answer 7 of the most asked questions about gestational diabetes levels.  

1. What are the levels of gestational diabetes? 

There are variations with diagnostic and management criteria of gestational diabetes in Australia. Your doctor will inform you of which diagnostic criteria they are using for the screening of gestational diabetes and provide you with an appropriate management plan. The following criteria are from the Australian Diabetes in Pregnancy Society (ADIPS) criteria for the diagnosis of gestational diabetes. 

A diagnosis of gestational diabetes is made if one or more of the following glucose levels are elevated:  

· Fasting glucose ≥ 5.1mmol/L   

 · 1‐hr glucose ≥ 10.0mmol/L   

 · 2‐hr glucose ≥ 8.5mmol/L      

Source: Australian Diabetes in Pregnancy Society (ADIPS) criteria for the diagnosis of gestational diabetes.  

A diagnosis of gestational diabetes doesn't have to be all doom and gloom. The awareness of elevated blood sugar levels present with gestational diabetes allows you to take steps to manage the condition - which will significantly reduce the chance of health complications during and after the pregnancy. 

For some, your doctor will recommend some lifestyle changes, which includes exercise and diet modification. For others, medication may be required to help ensure blood sugar levels are within the required levels.  

2. What is blood sugar monitoring?  

To ensure your blood sugar levels are where they should be, you will become familiar with blood sugar monitoring as this is a crucial part of managing your gestational diabetes.  

Your diabetes educator or doctor will spend time teaching you how to take your level, and what levels to aim for when it comes to your blood sugar levels. Regularly checking your blood sugar levels will help you to understand what affects them, including food, exercise, medication and stress.  

Checking your levels and making a note of them in a journal or on your phone can also help you identify any patterns or changes that you can discuss with your doctor or diabetes health professional.  

The brain can become a little 'foggy' during pregnancy, and you may feel overloaded with a lot of information so here are the basics when it comes to monitoring your blood sugar levels. 

3. What do I need to monitor my blood sugar levels? 

To check blood sugar levels, you need: 

· A blood sugar meter 

· A lancet device with lancets 

· Blood sugar testing strips 

These are readily available from your pharmacy. 

4. How do I check my blood sugar levels? 

To check your blood sugar levels, you need to insert a testing strip in the blood sugar meter.  

Next you will prick your finger with the lancet and add a small drop of blood onto a blood sugar checking strip. This will then read the strip and display a number – your blood sugar level. 

Most women find this task a little daunting when first testing but experience very little pain or discomfort once they have undertaken it a few times.   

5. When should I check my blood sugar levels?  

How often you check your levels will depend on each individual. The most common times to check blood glucose levels are when you wake up in the morning (fasting) and one or two hours after each main meal. Your diabetes educator or doctor will help determine how many times you need to test and what to aim for when it comes to your levels.  

Please note that your diabetes educator or doctor may also advise monitoring your blood sugar levels at other times. 

6. Why is it so important to check my levels?  

Monitoring your blood sugar levels can reinforce your healthy lifestyle choices as well as inform you of your body's response. Importantly, the changes in your blood sugar levels can alert you and your health care team to how best to manage your gestational diabetes for optimal health.  

7. What should my blood sugar level be?   

The required blood sugar levels vary depending on your age, type of medication you may be taking, and if you have any other medical problems. Speak with your diabetes educator or doctor about specific target ranges for you.  

Blood sugar levels are measured in millimoles per litre of blood (mmol/L). Typically, the recommended blood sugar targets during pregnancy in Australia are: 

  • 5.0mmol/L or less before breakfast  

  • 7.4mmol/L or less if you are testing one hour after the start  of your meal OR 

  • 6.7mmol/L or less if you are testing 2 hours after the start of your meal. 

Note that these blood sugar targets are a general guide. Your Diabetes Educator or Doctor will provide you with advice on individual blood glucose targets.  

 

Summary  

  • If you have been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, monitoring your blood sugar is one way to see how your body is responding to diet, exercise and medication.  

  • Continual spikes in blood sugar levels can put you at risk of complications during pregnancy, so careful monitoring can help manage those risks.  

  • How often you check your levels will depend on each individual and usually requires doing an at-home finger prick test to draw a droplet of blood that can be inserted into a testing machine. 

  • Blood sugar level targets range depending on the type of medication you may be taking, and if you have any other medical problems. Your doctor or diabetes educator will help you understand the ideal level for you.  

 

For information about getting support for gestational diabetes, where to get the tools you need and healthy lifestyle information such as recipes, tips, hacks, events and so much more, join the Capital Chicks CANberra online community today.

References

  •  N Poolsup et al. Effect of Treatment of Gestational Diabetes Mellitus: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. PLoS One. 2014; 9(3): e92485.
  •  Black MH, Sacks DA, Xiang AH, Lawrence JM. The relative contribution of pre-pregnancy overweight and obesity, gestational weight gain, and IADPSG-defined gestational diabetes mellitus to fetal overgrowth.   Diabetes Care. 2013; 36(1):5662.
  •  O’Sullivan J. Diabetes Mellitus after GDM.  Diabetes 1991; 29 (Suppl.2): 131‐35 
  •  Moses RG. The recurrence rate of gestational diabetes mellitus in subsequent  pregnancies. Diabetes Care 1996; 19: 1348‐1350
  •  Stephanie MacNeill et al. Rates and Risk Factors for Recurrence of Gestational Diabetes. Diabetes Care 2001 Apr; 24(4): 659-662.
  •  Young, R et al. Gestational Diabetes in the ACT: Continuing to Grow. Dietitians Canberra Health Services, Canberra Health Services and University of Canberra
  •  Brown J, et al. Insulin for the treatment of women with gestational diabetes. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017 Nov 5;11
  •  www.ndss.com.au 

Resources 

  •  www.diabetesnsw.com.au 
  •  www.ndss.com.au/wp-content/uploads/resources/booklet-gestational-diabetes-caring-for-yourself-and-baby.pdf

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