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What's the glucose challenge?

Have you taken the glucose challenge yet? If not, your prenatal care provider will likely invite you to do so soon.

Relax, this challenge isn't the latest video trend that's smashing the internet. Instead, we're talking about taking a test for gestational diabetes, a condition that some pregnant women get. If you have it, it's important to know because, without treatment, gestational diabetes could cause problems for you and your baby.

A sugary situation

Unlike other forms of diabetes, gestational diabetes occurs only during pregnancy. Not every woman gets it. But an estimated 6% of pregnant women do, the March of Dimes reports.

The reason? It has to do with insulin, a hormone that helps glucose (sugar from food) convert into energy. With diabetes, the body doesn't properly make or use insulin. As a result, glucose builds up in the bloodstream instead.

Why it matters

Most women with gestational diabetes have healthy pregnancies. But without treatment, high blood sugar can boost the risk for:

  • Preeclampsia (which includes high blood pressure and signs of organ injury) that can be dangerous for moms.
  • Pregnancy loss late in pregnancy (stillbirth).
  • Premature birth.
  • Having a very large baby, which may require a cesarean (C-section) delivery.
  • Jaundice and breathing problems for the baby after delivery.

What to expect from the glucose challenge

Most moms-to-be get a glucose challenge test (also called a glucose screening test) at 24 to 28 weeks of pregnancy (if not sooner), according to the March of Dimes. For the test, your doctor will have you drink a sugary beverage. About an hour later, a sample of your blood will be tested to see if you have a high glucose level.

If your test results show that your glucose is elevated, your provider may have you do another test (a glucose tolerance test) to find out for sure. This time, you'll fast (you don't eat or drink anything except water) for about 14 hours before the test. Then your blood may be checked once every hour for three hours.

You've got this!

What if it turns out that you have gestational diabetes? Again, you can have a healthy pregnancy and baby. The key is to control your blood sugar levels. Your provider will help you do that. You'll learn to do things like:

  • Eat healthy foods.
  • Be active.
  • Keep a healthy weight.
  • Check your blood sugar at home.
  • Take insulin shots, if needed.

Gestational diabetes should go away after your baby is born. But having it raises your chances of having type 2 diabetes (the most common type of diabetes) in the future. For this reason, your provider may want to test you again for type 2 diabetes after baby arrives.

What's good to eat?

Healthy eating is a must for every mom-to-be. For tips on nutritious foods, check out the pregnant woman's guide to eating.

Additional sources: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; American Pregnancy Association; Office on Women's Health

Reviewed 1/26/2023

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