What Is Gestational Diabetes?

Gestational diabetes only happens during pregnancy. It means you have high blood sugar levels, but those levels were normal before you were pregnant.

If you have it, you can still have a healthy baby with help from your doctor and by doing simple things to manage your blood sugar, also called blood glucose.

After your baby is born, gestational diabetes usually goes away.

Gestational diabetes makes you more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, but it won’t definitely happen.

Causes

During pregnancy, the placenta makes hormones that can lead to a buildup of glucose in your blood. Usually, your pancreas can make enough insulin to handle that. If not, your blood sugar levels will rise and can cause gestational diabetes.

Are You at Risk?

It affects between 2% and 10% of pregnancies each year. You are more likely to get gestational diabetes if you:

  • Were overweight before you got pregnant
  • Are African-American, Asian, Hispanic, or Native American
  • Have high blood sugar levels, but not high enough to be diabetes
  • Have a family history of diabetes
  • Have had gestational diabetes before
  • Have high blood pressure or other medical complications
  • Have given birth to a large baby before (greater than 9 pounds)
  • Have given birth to a baby that was stillborn or had certain birth defects

Diagnosis

Gestational diabetes usually happens in the second half of pregnancy. Your doctor will check to see if you have gestational diabetes between weeks 24 and 28 of your pregnancy. Your doctor may test sooner if you're at high risk. 

To test for gestational diabetes, you will quickly drink a sugary drink. This will raise your blood sugar levels. An hour later, you’ll take a blood test to see how your body handled all that sugar. If the results show that your blood sugar is higher than a certain cutoff (anywhere from 130 milligrams per deciliter [mg/dL] or higher), you will need more tests. This means testing your blood sugar while fasting and a longer glucose test that will be done over a 3-hour period.

If your results are normal but you have a high risk of getting gestational diabetes, you may need a follow-up test later in your pregnancy to make sure you still don’t have it.

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Gestational Diabetes Symptoms

Women with gestational diabetes usually have no symptoms. Most learn they have it during routine pregnancy screening tests.

Rarely, especially if the gestational diabetes is out of control, you may notice:

  • Feeling more thirsty
  • Feeling more hungry and eating more
  • A need to pee more

Treatment

To treat your gestational diabetes, your doctor will ask you to:

  • Check your blood sugar levels four or more times a day.
  • Do urine tests that check for ketones, which mean that your diabetes is not under control
  • Eat a healthy diet that’s in line with your doctor’s recommendations
  • Make exercise a habit

Your doctor will track how much weight you gain and let you know if you need to take insulin or other medicine for your gestational diabetes.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Nivin Todd, MD on December 12, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Family Physicians.

American Diabetes Association: "Gestational Diabetes."

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality: "Gestational Diabetes: A Guide for Pregnant Women."

American College of Nurse Midwives: "Gestational Diabetes."

Ohio State University Medical Center.

University of San Francisco Medical Center: “Diabetes in Pregnancy.”

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