Latina women are at greater risk for gestational diabetes

During National Hispanic Heritage Month, Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, we celebrate the cultures of U.S. residents with ancestry from Spain, Mexico, and the Spanish-speaking nations of Central America, South America and the Caribbean. Did you know that Latinas have a greater predisposition to all types of diabetes, including Type 1, Type 2 and gestational diabetes?

One in 4 Latinas have some form of diabetes, and have over a 50% chance of developing some form of the condition in their lifetimes. For comparison, the risk for white women is just above 31%. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Minority Health, Hispanic/Latina women were 1.5 times as likely as non-Hispanic white women to die from diabetes. Gestational diabetes disproportionately affects pregnant Latinas. How can Latina women stay healthy during their pregnancy?

What is gestational diabetes, and why are Latinas at higher risk?

Hormonal changes during pregnancy can cause your cells to become less responsive to insulin. For most pregnant women, the body adjusts, and the pancreas produces more insulin. However, if the pancreas can’t keep up with the need, it can cause high blood sugar. Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) is a form of high blood sugar (glucose intolerance) that happens, and is first recognized, during pregnancy.

GDM has been reported to affect between 1.4% to 12.3% of pregnancies. Risk factors for developing GDM while pregnant include:

  • Being overweight
  • Having GDM during a previous pregnancy
  • Ethnicity
  • Family history of diabetes
  • Glucose in urine (glycosuria)
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)

A woman’s ethnicity is one of the strongest risk factors for GDM and other types of diabetes that she can’t change. Additionally, due to the high risk of diabetes in all Latino people, the risk of family members having the condition may be high as well. Diabetes of all types tends to affect Latinx people at younger ages than it does other populations, so Latinx women should talk with their physician about their risk before getting pregnant.

How does diabetes affect pregnancy?

Most women with gestational diabetes will go on to have healthy deliveries. However, diabetes of any type — Type 1, Type 2, or gestational — can negatively affect the health of a woman and her baby during pregnancy. Women with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes with high blood sugar at the time of conception have an increased risk of birth defects, stillbirth and preterm birth. Women with any type of diabetes may have a higher risk of needing a cesarean delivery if they have high blood sugar during pregnancy. Additionally, the baby may have an increased risk for being too large at birth (especially in the shoulders) and being overweight and having Type 2 diabetes in the future.

Women with any type of diabetes will need extra care during pregnancy to make sure both mom and baby are healthy. Women will need to eat a modified diet and exercise during the pregnancy, as well as use medications such as insulin if prescribed by their OB/GYN.

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After pregnancy with gestational diabetes

Latinas with gestational diabetes may be at risk for conditions such as high blood pressure after pregnancy. Additionally, women with gestational diabetes will need to be tested for Type 2 diabetes 4 to 12 weeks after a baby is born. If you don’t test positive for Type 2 diabetes at that follow-up visit, make sure to get tested as part of your yearly physical.

Gestational diabetes care at Norton Children’s Maternal-Fetal Medicine

Norton Children’s Maternal-Fetal Medicine is the largest, most experienced maternal-fetal

medicine provider in the Louisville area. Our staff is dedicated to educating and monitoring women with diabetes who are at risk of having babies with an increased risk of heart defects. A dietitian and a diabetes nurse practitioner help women manage their blood sugar during pregnancy.

Should you have an abnormal ultrasound that warrants further testing, Norton Children’s Maternal-Fetal Medicine specialists work collaboratively with Norton Children’s and UofL Physicians pediatric specialists, including pediatric cardiology, pediatric urology and pediatric surgery. These specialists provide diagnoses and counseling for birth defects and inherited conditions. For example, women whose babies have a congenital heart defect such as a ventricular septal defect or hypoplastic left or right heart syndrome can consult with a cardiothoracic surgeon. Pediatric surgeons can repair complex congenital or acquired conditions soon after birth.

Norton Children’s Maternal-Fetal Medicine has outreach clinics that make care convenient. We have practices near Norton Children’s Hospital and Norton Women’s & Children’s Hospital in Louisville, and outreach clinics in Madison, Indiana; Bowling Green, Kentucky; and Paducah, Kentucky.


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