Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) is an increasingly common condition of pregnancy. It is associated with adverse fetal, infant and maternal outcomes, as well as an increased risk of GDM in future pregnancies and type 2 diabetes for both mother and offspring. Previous studies have shown that GDM can result in an emotionally distressing pregnancy, but there is little research on the patient experience of GDM care, especially of a demographically diverse UK population. The aim of this research was to explore the experiences of GDM and GDM care for a group of women attending a large diabetes pregnancy unit in southeast London, UK, in order to improve care.
Framework analysis was used to support an integrated analysis of data from six focus groups with 35 women and semi-structured interviews with 15 women, held in 2015. Participants were purposively sampled and were representative of the population being studied in terms of ethnicity, age, deprivation score and body mass index (BMI).
We identified seven themes: the disrupted pregnancy, projected anxiety, reproductive asceticism, women as baby machines, perceived stigma, lack of shared understanding and postpartum abandonment. These themes highlight the often distressing experience of GDM. While most women were grateful for the intensive support they received during pregnancy, the costs to their personal autonomy were high. Women described feeling valued solely as a means to produce a healthy infant, and felt chastised if they failed to adhere to the behaviours required to achieve this. This sometimes had an enduring impact to the potential detriment of women’s long-term psychological and physical health.
This study reveals the experiences of a demographically diverse group of patients with GDM, reflecting findings from previous studies globally and extending analysis to the context of improving care. Healthcare delivery may need to be reoriented to improve the pregnancy experience and help ensure women are engaged and attentive to their own health, particularly after birth, without compromising clinical pregnancy outcomes. Areas for consideration in GDM healthcare include: improved management of emotional responses to GDM; a more motivational approach; rethinking the medicalisation of care; and improved postpartum care.