Gestational diabetes complicates about 3%-5% of all pregnancies—affecting approximately 200,000 women each year in the US.

Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that begins during pregnancy and usually resolves after the baby is born. According to the American Diabetes Association, women who already have a diagnosis of ]]>diabetes]]> , prior to becoming pregnant, would not be classified as having gestational diabetes.

During pregnancy, placental hormones (growth hormone, prolactin, cortisol, placental lactogen, progesterone) are produced that can block the effectiveness of insulin, leading to a relative insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone that helps the body convert food into energy. Without insulin, glucose from the food you eat cannot enter cells, and glucose builds up in the blood.

In most women, the pancreas increases insulin production enough to offset this resistance. When the pancreas fails to keep pace, gestational diabetes occurs. In addition to causing problems for the mother, the excess sugar in the blood can cross the placenta and cause problems for the baby.

Complications affecting the fetus or infant include:

  • Macrosomia (large baby)
    • By definition, large baby means birth weight over 4,000 grams. This occurs in approximately 30% of women with gestational diabetes as compared to 10% in nondiabetic pregnancies. The risk of having a large baby at birth increases if a woman has the following conditions:
      • Birth trauma
      • Multiple pregnancies
      • High blood glucose
      • Older age
      • Excessive weight gain during pregnancy—This can also increase the risk for ]]>preterm]]> and ]]>cesarean]]> deliveries. ]]>]]>
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Low blood calcium,
  • Respiratory distress
  • High bilirubin (jaundice) and red blood cell count
  • High death rates

Complications for women with gestational diabetes mellitus include: increased chance of ]]>cesarean delivery]]> (by twofold), ]]>high blood pressure]]> , increased risk of developing the ]]>metabolic syndrome]]> or ]]>type 2 diabetes]]> later on, and ]]>pre-eclampsia]]> .

As stated above, women who have had gestational diabetes are at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. In one study, nearly 50% of women with a history of gestational diabetes developed type 2 diabetes or impaired glucose tolerance seven to ten years after their pregnancy.

Children whose mothers had gestational diabetes are at higher risk for certain health problems:

  • As babies, they are at higher risk for ]]>respiratory distress syndrome]]> (RDS), a disease that makes it hard for the baby to breathe.
  • As children or adults, they are more likely to be obese or very overweight, which can lead to other health problems.
  • They are at higher risk of having diabetes, or high blood sugar, as they get older.

If you have gestational diabetes, maintaining good control over your blood glucose levels during pregnancy significantly reduces the risk of complications to you and to your baby.

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