What is gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes (GD) is a type of diabetes. The condition develops in pregnant women if their blood sugar levels get too high. GD usually appears during the middle of pregnancy, between 24 and 28 weeks.
Developing GD doesn’t mean you already had diabetes before you got pregnant. The condition appears because of the pregnancy. Women with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes have their own, separate challenges when it comes to pregnancy.
How common is gestational diabetes in pregnancy?
Between 2% and 10% of pregnant women in the U.S. develop gestational diabetes.
Symptoms and Causes
What causes gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes comes from hormonal changes, and the way our bodies convert food into energy.
A hormone called insulin breaks down the glucose (sugar) from food and delivers it to our cells. Insulin keeps the level of glucose in our blood at a healthy level. But if insulin doesn’t work right or we don’t have enough of it, sugar builds up in the blood and leads to diabetes.
During pregnancy, hormones can interfere with the way insulin works. It may not regulate your blood sugar levels like it’s supposed to, which can lead to gestational diabetes.
Who is at risk for gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes can develop in any woman who is pregnant. But women over the age of 25 who are of African, Asian, Hispanic, Native American or Pacific Island descent are at a higher risk.
Other factors that may increase your chances of GD include:
- Heart disease.
- High blood pressure.
- Personal or family history of GD.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
- Previous birth of a baby weighing nine pounds or more.
What are the symptoms of gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes doesn’t usually cause any symptoms. But some women experience:
- Frequent urination.
Diagnosis and Tests
When does a healthcare provider test for gestational diabetes?
Your healthcare provider tests for gestational diabetes around weeks 24 to 28 of your pregnancy. At this stage, hormones start getting produced by the placenta. This organ forms in the uterus and supplies the baby with oxygen and nutrients. The hormones it makes can interfere with insulin.
How is gestational diabetes diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will test your blood sugar during pregnancy. The test may have two parts:
- Glucose challenge test: You drink a sweet liquid. After about an hour, you’ll have a blood test to check your blood sugar level. If your blood sugar is high, your healthcare provider will do a glucose tolerance test.
- Glucose tolerance test: An oral glucose tolerance test is only done if your challenge test results are unusual. You fast (don’t eat for eight hours) before the tolerance test. Your healthcare provider draws your blood before and after you drink a sweet liquid. The tolerance test can confirm a diagnosis of gestational diabetes.
Management and Treatment
Why is it important to treat gestational diabetes?
If left untreated, gestational diabetes can pose health risks to both you and your baby.
Gestational diabetes increases your risk of:
- Cesarean birth (C-section) if the baby gets too big.
- Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
- Preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy).
- Type 2 diabetes.
Gestational diabetes increases your baby’s risk of:
- Breathing problems.
- Premature birth.
- Type 2 diabetes.
How is gestational diabetes managed?
If you’re diagnosed with gestational diabetes, you may need more frequent checkups during your pregnancy. Your healthcare provider will check your blood sugar levels regularly. You may need to monitor your blood sugar at home with a tool called a glucose meter.
Some women need medication to manage gestational diabetes. But most women can keep their blood sugar levels under control with diet and exercise.
How should I change my diet for gestational diabetes?
You may need to adjust your diet to keep gestational diabetes under control. Try to:
- Avoid junk food, processed foods and sugary drinks.
- Choose a healthy balance of proteins, carbohydrates, fiber and fat.
- Eat smaller meals more often.
- Schedule your meals at the same time each day.
How can I exercise safely during pregnancy?
Exercise helps your body use more glucose, which may lower your blood sugar. If you have gestational diabetes, talk to your healthcare provider about creating a safe exercise plan. Your exercise plan should get tailored to your unique needs, including your:
- Fitness level before pregnancy.
- Overall health.
How can gestational diabetes be prevented?
Reduce your risk of gestational diabetes by staying healthy before and during your pregnancy. Eat a balanced diet and get regular exercise.
Outlook / Prognosis
Will gestational diabetes go away after pregnancy?
Most women’s blood sugar levels come down after they give birth and hormone levels return to normal. But about 50% of women with gestational diabetes develop Type 2 diabetes later in life. Diet and exercise can help lower your risk. Your healthcare provider may recommend blood glucose tests every six to 12 weeks after pregnancy to watch for diabetes.
What can I do to make living with gestational diabetes easier?
Make diabetes management part of your daily routine. Create a schedule and stick to it. Try to:
- Check your blood glucose levels at the same time each day.
- Choose three days each week to get 30 minutes of light exercise.
- Plan small, balanced meals ahead of time.
- Talk with your healthcare provider or a diabetes educator about other tips for daily diabetes management.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Gestational diabetes (GD) develops in pregnant women when there’s too much glucose in their blood. GD is usually diagnosed during the middle stage of pregnancy with a few simple blood tests. If left untreated, GD can cause health complications for the mother and the baby. Most women can manage gestational diabetes with diet and exercise. Some will need medication. Gestational diabetes increases your risk of developing Type 2 diabetes later in life. Talk to your healthcare provider about ways to reduce your risk of diabetes before, during and after pregnancy.