This high blood sugar disorder develops during pregnancy and can affect your pregnancy and your baby's health. Read about risks, prevention and treatment.
Gestational diabetes is diabetes diagnosed for the first time during pregnancy (gestation). Like other types of diabetes, gestational diabetes affects how your cells use sugar (glucose). Gestational diabetes causes high blood sugar that can affect your pregnancy and your baby's health.
While any pregnancy complication is concerning, there's good news. During pregnancy you can help control gestational diabetes by eating healthy foods, exercising and, if necessary, taking medication. Controlling blood sugar can keep you and your baby healthy and prevent a difficult delivery.
If you have gestational diabetes during pregnancy, generally your blood sugar returns to its usual level soon after delivery. But if you've had gestational diabetes, you have a higher risk of getting type 2 diabetes. You'll need to be tested for changes in blood sugar more often.
Most of the time, gestational diabetes doesn't cause noticeable signs or symptoms. Increased thirst and more-frequent urination are possible symptoms.
If possible, seek health care early — when you first think about trying to get pregnant — so your health care provider can check your risk of gestational diabetes along with your overall wellness. Once you're pregnant, your health care provider will check you for gestational diabetes as part of your prenatal care.
If you develop gestational diabetes, you may need checkups more often. These are most likely to occur during the last three months of pregnancy, when your health care provider will monitor your blood sugar level and your baby's health.
Researchers don't yet know why some women get gestational diabetes and others don't. Excess weight before pregnancy often plays a role.
Usually, various hormones work to keep blood sugar levels in check. But during pregnancy, hormone levels change, making it harder for the body to process blood sugar efficiently. This makes blood sugar rise.
Risk factors for gestational diabetes include:
Gestational diabetes that's not carefully managed can lead to high blood sugar levels. High blood sugar can cause problems for you and your baby, including an increased likelihood of needing a surgery to deliver (C-section).
If you have gestational diabetes, your baby may be at increased risk of:
Gestational diabetes may also increase your risk of:
There are no guarantees when it comes to preventing gestational diabetes — but the more healthy habits you can adopt before pregnancy, the better. If you've had gestational diabetes, these healthy choices may also reduce your risk of having it again in future pregnancies or developing type 2 diabetes in the future.
If you're at average risk of gestational diabetes, you'll likely have a screening test during your second trimester — between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy.
If you're at high risk of diabetes — for example, if you're overweight or obese before pregnancy; you have a mother, father, sibling or child with diabetes; or you had gestational diabetes during a previous pregnancy — your health care provider may test for diabetes early in pregnancy, likely at your first prenatal visit.
Screening tests may vary slightly depending on your health care provider, but generally include:
Initial glucose challenge test. You'll drink a syrupy glucose solution. One hour later, you'll have a blood test to measure your blood sugar level. A blood sugar level of 190 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), or 10.6 millimoles per liter (mmol/L), indicates gestational diabetes.
A blood sugar level below 140 mg/dL (7.8 mmol/L) is usually considered within the standard range on a glucose challenge test, although this may vary by clinic or lab. If your blood sugar level is higher than expected, you'll need another glucose tolerance test to determine if you have gestational diabetes.
Treatment for gestational diabetes includes:
Managing your blood sugar levels helps keep you and your baby healthy. Close management can also help you avoid complications during pregnancy and delivery.
Your lifestyle — how you eat and move — is an important part of keeping your blood sugar levels in a healthy range. Health care providers usually don't advise losing weight during pregnancy — your body is working hard to support your growing baby. But your health care provider can help you set weight gain goals based on your weight before pregnancy.
Lifestyle changes include:
With your health care provider's OK, aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days of the week. If you haven't been active for a while, start slowly and build up gradually. Walking, cycling and swimming are good choices during pregnancy. Everyday activities such as housework and gardening also count.
While you're pregnant, your health care team may ask you to check your blood sugar four or more times a day — first thing in the morning and after meals — to make sure your level stays within a healthy range.
If diet and exercise aren't enough to manage your blood sugar levels, you may need insulin injections to lower your blood sugar. A small number of women with gestational diabetes need insulin to reach their blood sugar goals.
Some health care providers prescribe an oral medication to manage blood sugar levels. Other health care providers believe more research is needed to confirm that oral medications are as safe and as effective as injectable insulin to manage gestational diabetes.
An important part of your treatment plan is close observation of your baby. Your health care provider may check your baby's growth and development with repeated ultrasounds or other tests. If you don't go into labor by your due date — or sometimes earlier — your health care provider may induce labor. Delivering after your due date may increase the risk of complications for you and your baby.
Your health care provider will check your blood sugar level after delivery and again in 6 to 12 weeks to make sure that your level has returned to within the standard range. If your tests are back in this range — and most are — you'll need to have your diabetes risk assessed at least every three years.
If future tests indicate type 2 diabetes or prediabetes, talk with your health care provider about increasing your prevention efforts or starting a diabetes management plan.
It's stressful to know you have a condition that can affect your unborn baby's health. But the steps that will help control your blood sugar level — such as eating healthy foods and exercising regularly — can help relieve stress, nourish your baby and help prevent type 2 diabetes in the future.
You may feel better if you learn as much as you can about gestational diabetes. Talk to your health care team, or read books and articles about gestational diabetes. You may find a support group for people with gestational diabetes helpful. Ask your health care team for suggestions.
You'll likely find out you have gestational diabetes from routine screening during your pregnancy. Your health care provider may refer you to additional health professionals who specialize in diabetes, such as an endocrinologist, a certified diabetes care and education specialist, or a registered dietitian. One or more of these care providers can help you learn to manage your blood sugar level during your pregnancy.
You may want to take a family member or friend along to your appointment, if possible. Someone who accompanies you may remember something that you missed or forgot.
Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment and know what to expect from your health care provider.
Before your appointment:
Some basic questions to ask your health care provider include:
Your health care provider is also likely to have questions for you, especially if it's your first visit. Questions may include: