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What are the causes of gestational diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is a condition of impaired blood sugar regulation in pregnancy, showing high levels of glucose or sugar in blood. Normally when a person eats food, the body digests the food to glucose and other nutrients which enter bloodstream. Glucose is an essential nutrient used as a fuel by every cell for all the normal processes. But for glucose to be utilized it should enter the every cell, and this can occur only in the presence of a hormone called insulin, produced by the pancreas. Without insulin, glucose a fuel that provides energy to for the body cells cannot enter the cells and gets retained in the blood.

Gestational diabetes happens when the amount of insulin released by mother’s body cannot be sufficient for maintaining sugar control. During pregnancy, a supporting tissue called placenta gets formed which connects the mothers and baby’s blood supply. It mainly provides nutrition to the baby; in addition to that, it also produces various hormones useful for baby’s growth and development. These hormones block the action of insulin in the mother’s body, a state termed as insulin resistance, which requires mother’s body to produce more amount of insulin, i.e., up to 3 fold than normal for maintaining sugar control. Even then, the blood sugars cannot be brought to normal resulting in gestational diabetes.

Sometimes, mother’s body can have insulin resistance even before the pregnancy usually because of being overweight, and these women start pregnancy with an increased need of insulin, and are more likely to develop gestational diabetes.

One can have higher chances of developing gestational diabetes if positive for:

  • Age above 25 years
  • Being  overweight (BMI above 30)
  • Have had gestational diabetes before
  • Have given birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds
  • Have a parent, brother, or sister with type 2 diabetes
  • Have prediabetes, meaning your blood glucose levels are higher than normal yet not high enough for a diagnosis of diabetes
  • Are African American, American Indian, Asian American, Hispanic/Latina, or Pacific Islander American
  • Have a hormonal disorder called polycystic ovary syndrome, also known as PCOS