Health & Nutrition

Can you be healthy and still get gestational diabetes?

Jessie Day & Eloise Edington, in partnership with Randox Health  |   20 Mar 2024


The answer is a resounding yes, but – as with so many aspects of pregnancy – it’s not always that simple. 

With the finish line in sight of her fifth pregnancy, and twins now due any day, TRB founder Eloise popped into her local clinic to get a few off-NHS checks done with world-renowned health test provider Randox Health. Here’s what she learned. 

Gestational diabetes can be tricky to spot

Sitting in the waiting room for my Everymother test with Randox Health – I’ve picked the Fulham clinic as it’s closest to the office and kids’ school here in London, but you can choose from an impressive locations directory – I’m feeling pretty good. 

I walk (a lot), seven months into my twin pregnancy, I’m a hands-on CEO-founder at TRB HQ, and I try (most of the time) to eat well. I take supplements – see my pregnancy supplements routine for the full list – and while my sleep is rubbish, I have the energy to keep up with my three young children. Mostly. 

gestational-diabetes-symptoms-pregnancy

I feel like, all things considered, I’m doing pretty well. At age 38 and with a big, huge IVF journey behind me, I do feel ‘healthy’. So flicking through the info about Randox Health’s Everymother test – book it here with 10% off using code TRB10 – I have to wonder, am I in for any surprises? 

There’s a lot here about high blood sugar levels. And yes, (the babies and) I do like chocolate, but is gestational diabetes caused by diet, for example, and is there anything I could have done, in pregnancy, to see more green than red flags on my results? 

Dialling in for my catch up after the results are in, I make a point of asking Laura Mooney, Research & Development Scientist with Randox Health a little more about the causes of gestational diabetes, and whether we can do much to avoid it. 

What causes gestational diabetes?

“Gestational diabetes is a high blood sugar level that develops during pregnancy and usually goes back to normal again after giving birth” Laura explains. “The body undergoes huge physiological change during pregnancy, including how hormones are produced and our response to them.

One of these hormones is insulin, which helps the body utilise sugar for energy and maintain healthy blood sugar levels. During pregnancy, demand for insulin increases and sensitivity often decreases, meaning our blood sugar levels are less well controlled. This phenomenon, known as insulin resistance, is common during the later stages of pregnancy and can increase the risk of developing gestational diabetes.”

Is it really common?

I did know a lot of this, but to be completely honest, diabetes is something I’ve only ever thought about in passing – as either type 1 or type 2 – and in the context of friends and family, people who I know who’ve been diagnosed as pre-diabetic, or a friend’s child who has type 1 diabetes and is navigating the day-to-day at school. 

Diabetes in pregnancy – alongside all the chaos and excitement of prepping for twins, birth considerations, blood thinners and IVF aftermath – not so much. So just how common is gestational diabetes? 

“Gestational diabetes is becoming increasingly more common”, says Laura “affecting around 1 in 20 women during pregnancy. It often develops without causing noticeable signs or symptoms and is usually only detected when testing reveals a high blood sugar level, like the Everymother check results we’re running through today. 

When symptoms do occur, they can include urinating more frequently, feeling more thirsty than usual and tiredness, but as these symptoms are common during normal pregnancy, they’re not very useful indicators of gestational diabetes, so testing is required for diagnosis.” 

gestational-diabetes-symptoms

Why doesn’t everyone get tested?

And not everyone gets referred for gestational diabetes testing – TRB senior editor Jessie Day wasn’t tested for gestational diabetes during either of her pregnancies, “probably because I didn’t present any of the classic risk factors” she says – age, BMI or family history, etc – “but my extended family does have a history, and one or two of my friends developed GD (gestational diabetes), despite being ‘low risk’, so I did wonder”. 

This is where a test like the Everymother finds its place. You can book it yourself from 20 weeks of pregnancy onwards – and into postpartum – and get a set of comprehensive diagnostic health checks, including gestational diabetes, a nutritional check (my folic acid and iron scores were off, for example, and my albumin was scoring too low) and postpartum diagnostic, with results sent swiftly through 2-5 working days after your test. 

If you’re like me and want granular detail on your pregnancy and wellbeing status (five rounds of IVF can really unleash the inner obsessive, I’ve found), or want a bit more intel to empower your choices and planning, Everymother is just what the doctor ordered – or not, in Jessie’s case, and she’d go for it next time. 

Can we avoid gestational diabetes?

Laura says, “gestational diabetes can affect anyone during pregnancy, but some people may be at higher risk than others. For example, being overweight or obese pre-pregnancy and having a baby later in life may increase your risk. 

If you were diagnosed with gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy, or one of your babies weighed over 10 lb (4.5 kg) at delivery, these historical factors may also increase the risk. Likewise, having a family history, so if a parent or sibling has diabetes, can raise the risk.”

So some of these things are, clearly, beyond our reasonable control. We can’t help family history, for example. But others are more of a contentious area, and I’m curious about the questions around diet – especially sugar consumption – and weight I’ve seen in my own search results. Does eating sugar – in my case, probably more than I should – cause gestational diabetes? I’m sure it’s a silly question, really, but I do want to know. 

“Aiming to be as healthy as possible before becoming pregnant can help to reduce the risk of developing gestational diabetes”, says Laura. “For example, weight loss if you’re overweight, increased physical activity and dietary improvements can all help improve health. 

A poor diet or eating too much sugar does not directly cause gestational diabetes, but these can contribute to weight gain and insulin resistance, which do increase risk. Maintaining a healthy, balanced diet focused on nutrient-rich foods – with reduced intake of sugary, high-fat and highly processed foods – can help reduce risk of gestational diabetes, and help support a healthy pregnancy.

So it’s no-one’s fault, exactly?

As I suspected – and very much the same deal as with optimised fertility, when I was prepping for conception – diet alone isn’t a guarantee for anything. But if we’re looking at risk factors, it absolutely is significant. ‘Fault’ though, is a tricky thing to pin and navigate – despite being such a high monthly online search for so many newly-diagnosed mums-to-be. 

Laura stresses, “It’s important to understand that while risk can be reduced, it’s not always possible to prevent gestational diabetes and if you are diagnosed, it’s not your fault. You can have a healthy diet and lifestyle and still develop gestational diabetes. 

The good news is that with proper management, the risk of complications associated with your gestational diabetes can be reduced. Maintaining blood sugars within a healthy range through diet and exercise, or medication when necessary, will help keep you and your baby healthy.” 

Keen to test? TRB readers get an exclusive 10% off the Randox Health Everymother test right now with code TRB10 – it’s our go-to comprehensive health check from 20 weeks onwards in pregnancy, when you want all the info, quickly and clearly. 

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