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Living with gestational diabetes: Mom-to-be Shayla shares her story

Shayla Morton didn't worry much when she started to feel unusually faint and thirsty.

After all, it was Cup Match AND she was pregnant — she was meant to feel tired and thirsty wasn't she?

So when she was diagnosed with gestational diabetes 28 weeks into her pregnancy, it came as a nasty surprise.

“It was a shock because I don't have the main risk factors,” Ms Morton said. “I wasn't overweight before I became pregnant. I haven't put on much weight during pregnancy and I don't have a family history of type two diabetes.”

Approximately 100 women test positive for the disease in Bermuda every year. Just under 500 babies were born in 2013.

The exact cause is unknown, however it is thought that the mother's pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin to prevent blood sugar levels from rising.

Black, Asian and Hispanic women are said to be at a higher risk for developing the disease elsewhere in the world but that's not the case here, said Sara McKittrick of the Bermuda Diabetes Association.

“We see women of all races and ethnicities with gestational diabetes,” she said. “It is fairly common in Bermuda. The numbers of women with gestational diabetes in Bermuda are on par with the rest of the world and are linked to the rising prevalence of obesity worldwide. The main risk of gestational diabetes to the mother is that she has a 50 percent risk of developing type two diabetes within five to ten years following the birth of her baby.”

Women with type two diabetes are at a greater risk of developing life-threatening health complications such as high blood pressure, kidney disease, blindness and stroke.

Babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes have a higher risk of preterm birth, low blood sugar and respiratory distress syndrome, a breathing disorder that affects newborns. They also have a higher risk of developing type two diabetes as adults.

Such babies also typically have a higher than normal birth weight — anything over 8lbs 13oz.

A woman with gestational diabetes in Texas gave birth to a 16lb baby in 2011. It was the largest baby born in the state's history.

Ms Morton's gestational diabetes was discovered following a glucose tolerance test. Usually administered to pregnant women between 22 and 28 weeks, the mother drinks a sugary beverage before her glucose level is tested.

“The first result of the oral glucose tolerance test came back marginal, which led to more extensive testing,” said Ms Morton. “Eventually, the test results came back positive for gestational diabetes.”

Gestational diabetes cannot be cured. Women who test positive for it are placed on a low-sugar and low-carbohydrate diet.

Ms Morton now monitors her blood sugar four times a day — when she first wakes up and after every meal. The results are reported to her doctor and a nutritionist and the baby's heart rate and movement is regularly monitored.

“So far, everything has been fine,” the 31-year-old said.

Ms Morton said being diagnosed in the summer made things a little more challenging for her.

“Because I was on summer vacation it was difficult to eat regular meals again because I wasn't on a routine,” the primary schoolteacher said. “Before the diagnosis I was getting up around 10am. This forced me to get back into routine and get up every morning at 8am to take my sugar and eat. In addition to pricking my finger, I also have to test my urine for ketones, a red flag that my sugar level is high.”

She has stuck to her diet pretty firmly.

“I'm not worried,” she said. “So far, everything is going well.”

Her baby girl, Xyla, is due October 14, and is expected to weigh around six or seven pounds.

Women should tell their doctor if they have any of the risk factors for gestational diabetes including a body mass index of more than 30, previous birth of a baby over 10lbs, or family history of diabetes including parents or siblings. If a woman is at extra risk the doctor may order an oral glucose tolerance test earlier than normal, between 16 and 18 weeks.

“Women with gestational diabetes are encouraged to eat a healthy diet and exercise and stay active as much as they can,” said Ms McKittrick, the Bermuda Diabetes Association's diabetes educator.

All women diagnosed with the disease are referred to a nutritionist in Bermuda that helps them adjust their diet and activity level.

Funds from this Sunday's Partner Re 5K walk have been earmarked for the Bermuda Diabetes Association.

“We are very pleased to receive these funds,” said Mrs McKittrick. “We hope to use these funds to put together a comprehensive programme to raise awareness of gestational diabetes in Bermuda and the later risk of type two diabetes for the mother and baby. It is about educating and empowering women.”

For more information see www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/gestational/what-is-gestational-diabetes.html#sthash.ct1LbwYS.dpuf.

<p>Did you know</p>

Did you know ...

It is recommended that women who are overweight before pregnancy or who have a family history of type two diabetes have an oral glucose tolerance test earlier than 28 weeks. If there are risk factors the test may be performed before the 13th week of pregnancy.

Women who develop gestational diabetes are at a higher risk for developing type two diabetes later in life. It is recommended that they have their glucose levels tested six weeks after delivery and then once a year.

Babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes are more likely to develop type two diabetes later in life.

This year the Bermuda Diabetes Association will be one of the beneficiaries of money raised from the annual Partner Re Walk. The organisation plans to put this money towards a special programme to educate pregnant women in Bermuda about gestational diabetes and the need to eat healthy during pregnancy.

For more information see www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/gestational/what-is-gestational-diabetes.html#sthash.ct1LbwYS.dpuf.

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Published September 30, 2014 at 9:00 am (Updated September 30, 2014 at 12:32 am)

Living with gestational diabetes: Mom-to-be Shayla shares her story

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