Potential Complication Gestational Diabetes

When you are pregnant, your body's hormones change in many ways. You already know this if you've experienced any of the moody ups and downs that can accompany pregnancy .

Sometimes, these hormonal changes can lead to high levels of blood glucose , or blood sugar.

If the glucose levels become very high, you may develop a condition called gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM). The condition is so named because it first begins or is discovered during pregnancy. 

GDM affects up to 5-10% of pregnancies -- almost one in ten pregnant women. That number is rising, partly due to increasing numbers of women who are overweight or obese . Excess weight increases the risk of diabetes .

Uncontrolled GDM can hurt you and your baby, although it is very treatable once detected. Learn what you need to know about the condition, whether you are at risk, and what to do about it.

What Is Gestational Diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is caused by a change in how your body responds to the hormone insulin . This hormone helps move glucose out of the blood and into the cells, so your body can use it for energy.

When you are pregnant, your cells become slightly more resistant to insulin . That increases the amount of sugar in your blood , which helps make more nutrients available to your baby. However, if the level of glucose becomes too high, it can cause problems for you and your baby.

How Can It Affect My Baby and Me?

If you develop GDM, you're at greater risk for:

You're also at greater risk for having a baby who has:

The good news? If you receive treatment and control GDM, your risk of problems is similar to the risks of other women. Your chances of having a healthy baby are excellent.

And, after you deliver, glucose levels often return to normal. However, both you and your baby will have a higher risk of getting diabetes later. So, your doctors will need to regularly monitor your blood sugar levels.


Who Is At Risk for GDM?

Certain factors raise your risk of getting GDM. You are at increased risk if you:

  • Are Hispanic, African-American, Native American, Asian American, or Pacific Islander
  • Were overweight before your pregnancy
  • Have a family member with diabetes
  • Are age 25 or older
  • Had GDM in a previous pregnancy
  • Had a previous very large baby (9 pounds or more) or a stillbirth
  • Have had abnormal blood sugar tests before
  • Carrying twins or multiples


Screening for GDM

You can expect your doctor to assess your risk for GDM at your first prenatal visit.

If you are at high risk, you should have a blood test for GDM as soon as possible. If your test is negative, you should still repeat the test about week 24-28.

If you are not at high risk, you should also get screened about week 24-28.

To test for gestational diabetes, your doctor may order a test known as the glucose challenge test. You do not need to fast for this. If you fail the test then you will have an oral glucose tolerance test with 100gm. You will fast for a certain period beforehand (your doctor will tell you for how long). This two-step approach is commonly used.

If the Diagnosis Is GDM

Depending upon how severe your GDM is, you may:

To reduce risks to you and your baby, your doctor may induce labor earlier than your due date . You may need a cesarean, although most women with GDM are still able to deliver vaginally.

GDM Follow-up

It's important that you have a test for diabetes about six to 12 weeks after you deliver.

If that test is normal, your doctor will likely tell you to repeat the diabetes test every year.

You also need to be sure your pediatrician monitors your child for diabetes, as the risk is higher since you have had it.

This close follow-up of you and your child will help keep you both as healthy as possible.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Nivin Todd, MD on January 13, 2019



American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: "FAQs on Gestational Diabetes" and "Committee Opinion on Screening and Diagnosis of Gestational Diabetes Mellitus."

American Diabetes Association: "Prediabetes FAQs;" "What is Gestational Diabetes?" and "How to Treat Gestational Diabetes."

Medscape: "Diabetes Mellitus and Pregnancy."

Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine: "High-Risk Pregnancy Care, Research and Education for Over 35 Years."

CDC: "Diabetes and Pregnancy."

Aldasouqi, S. Int J. Diabetes Dev Ctries , October-December 2008; vol 28: pp 121-124.

© 2019 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.


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