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13th November 2015

Dealing with diabetes when you’re expecting

The joy that Becky Concannon felt when she got pregnant with her two daughters was quickly overshadowed with guilt and fear when she learned she had gestational diabetes.

Though the condition affects 18% of pregnancies, many people haven’t heard of it. Becky and This Is Medtech thought that telling her story in the run-up to World Diabetes Day would be a perfect opportunity to raise awareness.

Gestational diabetes occurs when expectant mums, who don’t have diabetes before their pregnancy, have high blood sugar (glucose) levels because their bodies aren’t producing enough insulin, the hormone that’s responsible for keeping those levels balanced. It’s usually diagnosed with a blood test during the second or third trimester. Gestational diabetes raises the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes later on in life, both for mother and child. What’s frightening is that there are often no symptoms. As a result, the diagnosis can come as quite a shock like it did for Becky.

Despite having been told that she fell into the “high risk” category because her body mass index (BMI) was high and her mum had Type 2 diabetes, Becky was hoping for the best as she was more than halfway through her pregnancy and she felt absolutely fine. When she got the diagnosis at 26 weeks, she was devastated. “All was going well in my pregnancy and now I had to deal with something I’d never had before,” she recalls.

Becky was able to manage her condition by eating regularly and sensibly, with the help of a blood glucose monitoring kit. “It’s basically a needle prick on your finger which produces a drop of blood on a strip that then attaches to a gadget which reads what’s your sugar level, so you can accurately record at different times of the day what your levels are,” she explains, adding that it was “very stressful having to watch the clock for checking blood levels and making myself eat when I didn’t necessarily want to. But I knew this wasn’t just about me. I had my baby to keep well, too.”

If left untreated, gestational diabetes raises the possibility of complications such as having to induce labour, needing a C-section, having a larger than average baby, having a new-born with low blood glucose levels, and possibly even losing your baby around the time of the birth. It also increases the risks for the child to become obese and/or develop diabetes later in life.

Because Becky took control of the situation as soon as she was diagnosed and made sure she watched her diet and monitored herself, after being induced she was able to give birth to a healthy 3.2kg baby girl with no further complications.

Things didn’t go quite as smoothly the second time around. “In my second pregnancy I knew straight away I was in trouble. My BMI was at its highest and having become pregnant unplanned I knew I was in for a tougher time…and so it was! The appointments were non-stop and I felt petrified all the way through. At 14 weeks pregnant I was faced with insulin injections three times a day,” remembers Becky.

This time she had to deal with blood sugar crashes that left her feeling shaky, faint and hot. She was also carrying excess fluid, which had to be checked at the regular scans every four weeks to monitor the baby’s growth.

“As each week passed I had to inject more insulin due to my levels soaring. I carried a lot of guilt. Even though I was treating the diabetes, I still felt that it was all my fault, but I did as best as I could to help my babies and me,” she says. Doing her best paid off: Though she had to be induced at 38 weeks, Becky had another healthy baby girl, this time about 3.5kg.

What tips does she have for women who find themselves in a similar situation?

“Don’t panic! Take as much advice from the midwife, diabetes nurses and your consultant as you can. By following their guidance, you will in turn help and do the best you can for a safe journey in keeping baby growing safely and ultimately having a smooth delivery.” She also notes that Diabetes UK has a fantastic website, which gives advice on recipes and generally gives support when needed.