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A Look At Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes is one of the most common complications of pregnancy. It's a condition that requires special care for the health of the mother and the baby. The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay explains.

Expectant mother Maureen Freeman has gestational diabetes - a form of diabetes that affects women only during pregnancy. To prevent complications, she must monitor her blood sugar and diet carefully, as well as take insulin shots.

Obstetrician-gynecologist Dr. Douglas Moss says, "What happens is the mom is unable to metabolize sugar so she carries too much sugar in her blood. If her sugar control is good - and that means that she has normal sugars throughout the day - then she really has no more risk than any low-risk patient."

The reason gestational diabetes is dangerous is because with the mother's sugars out of control, the baby's health is at risk.

Dr. Moss explains, "At that stage, the baby would be at risk for certain birth defects. When there's a high sugar load in mom, that transmits to a high sugar level in the baby. These babies will get really big. They'll store all their sugar as fat, and they'll be really big, fat babies and that is a concern in terms of birth risk for trauma."

Elisabeth Mason took her diagnosis of gestational diabetes seriously, and got her blood sugar under control with diet. The result?

Mason says, "We had a baby boy. His name is Simon. He was extremely healthy when he was born. It was worth doing everything the doctor said. It was worth following diet very carefully because at the end of the day, the most important thing is to have a healthy baby."

Gestational diabetes usually goes away after the baby is born. But women who have gestational diabetes are at higher risk of developing diabetes later in life.

It's unclear why some patients will develop gestational diabetes or go on to get diabetes, but what is clear is that patients who maintain good diets and exercise and keep their weight down, are less likely to become Type 2 diabetics.

Women have a higher risk of developing gestational diabetes if they are over 25 years of age, overweight, have a family history of diabetes or belong to ethnic groups at high risk of diabetes. But screening for diabetes with a blood test is routine during pregnancy because many women who develop it don't have risk factors.

Research indicates that the risk to the baby developing diabetes, too, is not high, but the mother who has a propensity for diabetes genetically may pass on that propensity to her offspring.

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