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What is Gestational Diabetes?

Updated: Mar 25, 2022

person with gestational diabetes testing blood sugar

Pregnancy hormones can make your body do weird things! Unfortunately, for some women, these hormone changes can lead to gestational diabetes. According to the CDC, gestational diabetes affects about 9% of pregnancies.

Gestational diabetes literally means diabetes during pregnancy- the diabetes did not exist before pregnancy, and luckily will most likely disappear after delivery. During pregnancy, hormones produced by the placenta can cause insulin resistance, which makes blood sugars go too high. These high blood sugars pose risk and potential complications that can affect both mom and baby.

Gestational diabetes generally develops later in pregnancy, that’s why it’s not tested for until you are around 24-28 weeks. This is done using the infamous oral glucose tolerance test that involves hanging out at the lab and drinking a super sweet drink.

The following are risk factors that increase the chances of developing gestational diabetes:

  • Being older than age 25

  • Having prediabetes

  • Having gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy

  • Having a family history of type 2 diabetes

  • Being overweight or obese

  • Gaining an excessive amount during pregnancy

  • Having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

  • Having high cholesterol, high blood pressure or heart disease

  • Being Hispanic, African American, Alaska Native, Asian American or Pacific Islander

Having gestational diabetes means that you will need to test your blood sugars multiple times per day. It can be treated with diet, physical activity, as well as medications including insulin. Many women can keep their blood sugars within target without having to take any medication at all.

If blood sugars are not well managed, some scary things can happen. If blood sugars are too high, this will cause the baby to grow too much. The medical term is “macrosomia”, meaning the baby is larger than average. This can make vaginal delivery difficult and potentially even quite dangerous, so sometimes women are induced early or undergo a c-section. Other potential problems gestational diabetes can lead to are:

For mom:

  • Miscarriage/stillbirth

  • High blood pressure and preeclampsia

  • Depression during pregnancy and/or postpartum depression

  • Type 2 diabetes later in life

For baby:

  • Low blood sugar after delivery

  • Jaundice

  • Temporary breathing problems

  • Obesity later in life

  • Type 2 diabetes later in life

Luckily, many women go on to have safe deliveries and healthy babies even with gestational diabetes. Check your blood sugars as directed, eat healthy, stay active (as permitted by your medical provider), and be open to taking medication if necessary. Need help? Meet with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and/or Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist with experience in gestational diabetes for support.



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