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Gestational Diabetes

What is gestational diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that some women who do not have diabetes develop during pregnancy.

Diabetes causes your blood glucose (sugar) to get too high. Blood sugar is the fuel your body makes from the food you eat. Your body also makes insulin. Insulin helps your body use blood sugar for energy. If you have gestational diabetes, your body cannot make enough insulin or use all the insulin it needs for pregnancy. This causes your blood sugar to get too high.

What are the symptoms?

Many women with gestational diabetes have no symptoms or the symptoms are very mild—such as being thirstier than normal or having to urinate more often. Gestational diabetes is sometimes related to the hormonal changes of pregnancy that make your body less able to use insulin, but genetics and extra weight may also play a role.

Doctors usually test for gestational diabetes between the 24th and 28th weeks of pregnancy.

How is it treated?

If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, follow your doctor's guidance, which may include a healthy eating plan and being physically active. If eating healthy and being active don't keep your blood glucose within in the range set by your doctor, medication may be prescribed.

Having gestational diabetes does not mean you will have diabetes after the baby is born or that your baby will have diabetes—but it does increase the chances for both. You may be able to reduce the risk of developing gestational diabetes if you maintain a healthy weight, eat nutritious food and be active.

How does it affect me and my baby?

When blood sugar is not managed, a woman with gestational diabetes may have problems that affect her health and that of her baby, including:

Having urinary tract infections: Glucose (sugar) in your blood and urine can contribute to a greater risk for developing urinary tract infections.

Having yellowish skin at birth: This condition is called jaundice. A baby has jaundice when his liver isn't fully developed or isn’t working well.

Delivering a baby with a high birth weight: If gestational diabetes is not well controlled, the baby’s blood sugar may be high, causing the baby to be “overfed” and larger than normal. This may lead to delivery problems for the mother and baby.

Having a cesarean section: A woman whose gestational diabetes is not managed has a higher chance of requiring a cesarean section (C-section) to deliver the baby. When the baby is delivered by a C-section, it takes longer for the woman to recover from childbirth.

Developing high pressure: When a pregnant woman has high blood pressure, protein in her urine and swelling in her fingers and toes that doesn’t go away, she might have pre-eclampsia. This is a serious condition that must be monitored by her doctor. It can lead to premature birth or cause the woman to have seizures or a stroke during labor and delivery.

Developing low blood sugar: Women who take insulin or other diabetes medications can develop a serious condition called low blood glucose (hypoglycemia). This may be avoided by monitoring blood glucose levels closely and treating it quickly. If you develop low blood sugar, the National Institutes of Health recommends that you quickly eat or drink 15 grams of carbohydrates, including

  • four glucose tablets or one tube of glucose gel
  • 1/2 cup (4 ounces) of fruit juice—not low-calorie or reduced sugar*
  • 1/2 can (4 to 6 ounces) of soda—not low-calorie or reduced sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar, honey, or corn syrup
  • 2 tablespoons of raisins

Wait 15 minutes, and check your blood glucose again. If your glucose level is still low, eat or drink another 15 grams of glucose or carbohydrates. Check your blood glucose again after another 15 minutes. Repeat these steps until your glucose level is back to normal. If your next meal is more than 1 hour away, have a snack to keep your blood glucose level in your target range. Try crackers or a piece of fruit

Developing diabetes later in life: Women who have had gestational diabetes are at greater risk for developing Type 2 diabetes after their pregnancies. Their babies are also at greater risk for obesity and developing diabetes.

Can I still breastfeed my baby?

Yes! Breastfeeding is healthy for you and your baby. It helps lower blood glucose levels in you and your baby, and it helps you lose the weight you gained during pregnancy. It also lowers the chance that you or your baby will develop diabetes later in life.

Should I participate in a pregnancy registry?

If you take diabetes medicine or other prescription or nonprescription medicine, explore the possibility for being on a pregnancy registry. Pregnancy registries are studies that collect information from women who must take prescription medicines or vaccines during pregnancy. These registries can help researchers and women learn more about how medicines for diabetes and other diseases affect women during pregnancy.

The Food and Drug Administration keeps a list of pregnancy registries. If you must take medicine for your gestational diabetes, check to see if there is a registry for it or any other medicines you take.

Last updated October 12, 2018