Health Information

Gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes

Definition

Gestational diabetes is high blood sugar (diabetes) that starts or is first diagnosed during pregnancy.

Alternative Names

Glucose intolerance during pregnancy

Causes

Pregnancy hormones can block insulin from doing its job. When this happens, glucose levels may increase in a pregnant woman's blood.

You are at greater risk for gestational diabetes if you:

  • Are older than 25 when you are pregnant
  • Have a family history of diabetes
  • Gave birth to a baby that weighed more than 9 pounds or had a birth defect
  • Have high blood pressure
  • Have too much amniotic fluid
  • Have had an unexplained miscarriage or stillbirth
  • Were overweight before your pregnancy

Symptoms

Usually there are no symptoms, or the symptoms are mild and not life threatening to the pregnant woman. The blood sugar (glucose) level usually returns to normal after delivery.

Symptoms may include:

Exams and Tests

Gestational diabetes usually starts halfway through the pregnancy. All pregnant women should receive an oral glucose tolerance test between the 24th and 28th week of pregnancy to screen for the condition. Women who have risk factors for gestational diabetes may have this test earlier in the pregnancy.

Once you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, you can see how well you are doing by testing your glucose level at home. The most common way involves pricking your finger and putting a drop of your blood on a machine that will give you a glucose reading.

Treatment

The goals of treatment are to keep blood sugar (glucose) levels within normal limits during the pregnancy, and to make sure that the growing baby is healthy.

WATCHING YOUR BABY

Your health care provider should closely check both you and your baby throughout the pregnancy. Fetal monitoring will check the size and health of the fetus.

A nonstress test is a very simple, painless test for you and your baby.

  • A machine that hears and displays your baby's heartbeat (electronic fetal monitor) is placed on your abdomen.
  • Your health care provider can compare the pattern of your baby's heartbeat to movements and find out whether the baby is doing well.

DIET AND EXERCISE

The best way to improve your diet is by eating a variety of healthy foods. You should learn how to read food labels, and check them when making food decisions. Talk to your doctor or dietitian if you are a vegetarian or on some other special diet.

In general, when you have gestational diabetes your diet should:

  • Be moderate in fat and protein
  • Provide your carbohydrates through foods that include fruits, vegetables, and complex carbohydrates (such as bread, cereal, pasta, and rice)
  • Be low in foods that contain a lot of sugar, such as soft drinks, fruit juices, and pastries

If managing your diet does not control blood sugar (glucose) levels, you may be prescribed diabetes medicine by mouth or insulin therapy.

Most women who develop gestational diabetes will not need diabetes medicines or insulin, but some will.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Most women with gestational diabetes are able to control their blood sugar and avoid harm to themselves or their baby.

Pregnant women with gestational diabetes tend to have larger babies at birth. This can increase the chance of problems at the time of delivery, including:

  • Birth injury (trauma) because of the baby's large size
  • Delivery by c-section

Your baby is more likely to have periods of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) during the first few days of life.

Mothers with gestational diabetes have an increased risk for high blood pressure during pregnancy.

There is a slightly increased risk of the baby dying when the mother has untreated gestational diabetes. Controlling blood sugar levels reduces this risk.

High blood sugar (glucose) levels often go back to normal after delivery. However, women with gestational diabetes should be watched closely after giving birth and at regular doctor's appointments to screen for signs of diabetes. Many women with gestational diabetes develop diabetes within 5 - 10 years after delivery.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if you are pregnant and you have symptoms of diabetes.

Prevention

Beginning prenatal care early and having regular prenatal visits helps improve your health and the health of your baby. Having prenatal screening at 24 - 28 weeks into the pregnancy will help detect gestational diabetes early.

If you are overweight, decreasing your body mass index (BMI) to a normal range before you get pregnant will decrease your risk of developing gestational diabetes.

References

Screening for gestational diabetes mellitus: Recommendation statement. Rockville, MD. US Preventive Services Task Force. Ann Intern Med. 2008; 148:759-765.

Serlin DC, Lash RW. Diagnosis and management of gestational diabetes mellitus. Am Fam Physician. 2009 Jul 1;80(1):57-62.

American Diabetes Association. Nutrition recommendations and interventions for diabetes: a position statement of the American Diabetes Association. Diabetes Care. 2008;31:S61-S78.  

Benjamin TD, Pridijan G. Update on gestational diabetes. Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics. 2010 June;27(2):255-267.


Review Date: 8/8/2012
Reviewed By: A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, and David R. Eltz. Previously reviewed by Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Redmond, Washington; Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine (9/12/2011).
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