The Other Diabetes - 2016 World Health Day


There are many reasons why a baby may be born premature or sick but one that is not often talked about is diabetes and more specifically gestational diabetes - the development of the condition during the second half of your pregnancy.

Today is World Health Day, a global health awareness day with this year’s focus on the chronic disease (Type 1, Type 2 and gestational) which affects millions around the world. In Australia, between 5% and 10% of pregnant women will develop gestational diabetes.

As recalled by mum to miracle baby, Kenahdy (pictured):

“We had tried to fall pregnant for 3 years and at 21 weeks I was hospitalised for high blood pressure and protein in my urine. I was also diagnosed with gestational diabetes. At 38 weeks, we were induced.

Once born she was unresponsive, I remember the fear that came over me knowing that she wasn't breathing.

The next morning her breathing seemed better however her sugar levels were very low. She was lethargic and refusing to feed. My husband and I struggled to come to terms with how quickly this was all happening. She was then put into the NICU dependency unit as her levels were peaking and jaundice had also set in. Her little arms wouldn't allow a cannula in any longer and the IV was inserted through her belly button and then her scalp.

Emotionally, it was devastating for my husband and I. Just a few days short of 4 weeks, we were able to go home.”

Gestational diabetes is a condition of abnormally raised blood sugar levels (also called ‘glucose intolerance’ or ‘hyperglycaemia’) during pregnancy.

Typically, women with gestational diabetes have no warning signs but some may experience symptoms such as increased thirst, increased urination, tiredness, nausea and vomiting, bladder infections, yeast infections, sugar in their urine, blurred vision and mood changes.

Gestational diabetes is serious and detection is vital so it is common for all pregnant women in Australia to be offered a glucose test around 26-28 weeks of pregnancy. As it is a condition that occurs only during pregnancy, it is not the same as having pre-existing diabetes throughout a pregnancy with the condition usually disappearing once the baby is born. A history of gestational diabetes, however, can increase a woman’s and the baby’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

The extra glucose in a mothers bloodstream crosses the placenta triggering the unborn baby's pancreas to make extra insulin. This can cause the baby to grow too big. Around 30% of women with gestational diabetes deliver larger than average babies and because of this, are more likely to require intervention during labour such as a caesarean birth. Other potential problems for the baby include birth defects, premature birth and jaundice during the first 28 days. Premature birth also puts a newborn at risk of both short term and long term health issues.

Ways you can help reduce your risk:

  • Check your risk of diabetes with your doctor and work together to build a plan that is right for you and your baby.

  • Manage your weight before falling pregnant and develop healthy eating habits you can take into your pregnancy.

  • Keep active. Exercising regularly before pregnant can help reduce your risk of developing gestational diabetes during pregnancy and once pregnant work with your doctors on an exercise plan that is safe for you and your baby.

  • Limit alcohol intake before falling pregnant, stopping altogether during pregnancy.

  • Quit smoking before falling pregnant. Smokers are twice as likely to develop diabetes as non-smokers.

  • Choosing to express and/or breastfeed your baby. It is now widely accepted that being breastfed helps protect babies from becoming overweight or obese later in life and breastfeeding can lower the risk of a mother with gestational diabetes of developing type 2 diabetes.

Not only will these help care for your unborn baby but it will also help take care of a very important person - their mother.  

World Health Day is a global health awareness day, sponsored by the World Health Organisation (WHO), acknowledged by various governments and non-government organisations, which are directly and indirectly involved with public health issues.

The theme for 2016 is Diabetes : There are 3 types of diabetes, type 1, type 2 and gestational. Diabetes results from elevated levels of blood glucose (blood sugar) and occurs when your pancreas does not produce enough insulin, or cannot utilise the insulin it produces. Insulin, is the hormone which regulates blood sugar, providing the energy we need to live. Blood sugar levels can grow to harmful levels if insulin cannot enter the cells to be burned as energy and thus can lead to damage to your major organs, causing heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure, nerve damage and blindness. It can also significantly impact the health of a mother and her unborn baby.

Miracle Babies Foundation is Australia's leading organisation aiming to provide better outcomes for newborns, and their families, challenged by prematurity and sickness.