On Sunday, most of us will spend the day celebrating mothers. What you may not know is that Mother’s Day is also the kick-off to National Women’s Health Week, which runs May 13 through 19. These two events provide an important opportunity for us to not only honor the women in our lives, but also share important health information about women and diabetes.
Approximately 12.6 million women aged 20 years or older have diabetes in the United States. Most of these women have type 2 diabetes, but an increasing number are being diagnosed with gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes (sometimes referred to as GDM) is when the body is not able to make and use all the insulin it needs during pregnancy; it affects up to 18 percent of all pregnancies.
Gestational diabetes poses serious risks to both mother and baby, including high birth weight (with increased risk of birth injury or cesarean delivery), neonatal hypoglycemia (low blood glucose) and preeclampsia. There is also evidence that it puts both mother and child at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
As gestational diabetes causes adverse health outcomes and has few symptoms, it is recommended that all pregnant women be screened for the disease between weeks 24 and 28 of pregnancy. Despite this recommendation, one out of three pregnant women never gets tested—and of women diagnosed with gestational diabetes, only one in five receive the appropriate follow-up test postpartum.
Some women are at greater risk for developing gestational diabetes because of their age, race or other characteristics. For instance, Asian American women are 177 percent more likely and Hispanic women are 50 percent more likely to develop gestational diabetes than non-Hispanic white women. The good news is that women can treat and manage their gestational diabetes through diet and exercise and sometimes through medications—but only if it is diagnosed.
Gestational diabetes is a growing problem and the federal government must fund additional research focused on this disease that affects the health of both mothers and babies. That’s why the American Diabetes Association is a champion of the Gestational Diabetes Act, bipartisan legislation introduced in the U.S. Congress that would provide important resources to establish a tracking and surveillance system for gestational diabetes and fund research to help understand which women are at greatest risk, which may help us eventually prevent gestational diabetes. Given the magnitude of the diabetes epidemic, this legislation is a step in the right direction toward stopping it.
Help us spread Mother’s Day joy and celebrate National Women’s Health Week by sending Mom an e-card to support healthy moms and babies and letting your representative and senators know this is an important issue we cannot afford to ignore. Ask them to co-sponsor the Gestational Diabetes Act today!