Gestational Diabetes

November is National Diabetes Month, a time to bring attention to diabetes and its impact on millions of Americans, including babies.

Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that develops during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes can cause health problems in both mother and baby. During gestational diabetes, the extra sugar in the mother’s blood “feeds” the baby more. If the baby is very large, the mother may have a more difficult delivery or need a cesarean section. Gestational diabetes can also cause problems for the baby at birth, including low blood sugar or jaundice.

Gestational diabetes often has no symptoms, or they may be 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 a woman’s body less able to use insulin. Genes and extra weight may also play a role. Symptoms include:

  • Sugar in urine (revealed in a test done in your doctor’s office)
  • Unusual thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Frequent vaginal, bladder, and skin infections
  • Blurred vision

Genetics and extra weight may play a role in gestational diabetes, but all pregnant women are tested by their doctor for gestational diabetes between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy. Tests include the glucose challenge test and the oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT). If the results of the glucose challenge test show high blood glucose, you will return for an OGTT test to confirm the diagnosis of gestational diabetes.

Mothers who’ve had gestational diabetes are at an increased lifelong risk for developing type 2 diabetes, and their children are also at risk.

Most of the time, gestational diabetes goes away after the baby is born, but even if the diabetes goes away, the mother is at a greater chance of getting diabetes — and the child from that pregnancy is at future risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes. In fact, half of all women who had gestational diabetes go on to develop type 2 diabetes.

If you’ve had gestational diabetes—

  • Get tested for type 2 diabetes within 12 weeks after your baby is born. If the test is normal, get tested every 3 years.
  • Talk to your doctor if you plan to become pregnant again in the future.
  • Tell your child’s doctor if you had gestational diabetes.
  • Keep up healthy habits for a lifetime to prevent or delay type 2 diabetes.

Managing gestational diabetes includes following a healthy eating plan and being physically active. If your eating plan and physical activity aren’t enough to keep your blood glucose in your target range, you may need insulin.

You can lower your chance of getting gestational diabetes by losing extra weight before you get pregnant if you are overweight. Being physically active before and during pregnancy also may help prevent gestational diabetes.

If you had gestational diabetes, you are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes and your child is more likely to become obese or develop type 2 diabetes. You may be able to lower your and your child’s chances of developing these problems by reaching a healthy weight, making healthy food choices, and being physically active for a lifetime.