What happens to you after the birth
Your blood glucose should be tested before you leave the hospital. Even if your glucose has returned to normal, at this stage you should receive information and support about your risk of developing type 2 diabetes in future and the importance of weight loss, healthy diet and exercise.
Your glucose levels will be tested again 6–13 weeks after the birth – often at your postnatal check, which takes place about six weeks after your baby is born.
If your blood glucose levels are still high, then this is no longer gestational diabetes, and it is possible that you have type 2 diabetes. If your test is normal, your healthcare team should offer you an HbA1c test for diabetes each year as you are at higher risk of developing it. They may monitor your waist measurement and weight. You may also be offered support to lose weight, eat better or become more active, depending on your other risk factors.
If you become pregnant again, you are at higher risk of having gestational diabetes again. For this reason, talk to your doctor when you are planning your next pregnancy. You should be screened for diabetes before becoming pregnant again to make sure that your blood glucose is at a safe level, and as soon as you become pregnant you will need to monitor your blood glucose levels.
"The second time round I didn’t eat chocolate, and getting out and walking was easier because I had a child. Worrying about it added a lot of anxiety to my pregnancy but I didn’t have gestational diabetes that time round." Prisha, mum of two
Type 2 diabetes
You are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes in later life. This risk is highest in the four-to-five years after your gestational diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is a serious condition, which, if left untreated, can lead to sight loss, foot numbness and heart disease, as well as the risks associated with having a hypo. But there is a lot you can do to reduce these risks. Gestational diabetes is a warning sign to show what could develop in later life if you don’t take action. Have a chat with your GP about what you can do to reduce your risk.
It is also worth knowing the warning signs (shown below). Visit your GP if you are worried at all.
Signs of diabetes
- Feeling more thirsty than usual
- Needing to wee more often – especially at night
- Frequent thrush infections
- Weight loss
- Slow-healing wounds
- Feeling unusually tired
- Blurred vision
There is lots you can do to reduce your risk, by making changes to your lifestyle. Even if you develop type 2 diabetes, you may find you can manage it through diet and exercise. So, whichever way you look at it, these changes can make all the difference.
A recent study found that women who do not smoke, are physically active, have a BMI under 25 and eat a healthy diet are far less likely to develop gestational diabetes. So if you want to reduce your risk of gestational diabetes, leading a healthy lifestyle is a good place to start.
*If your (non-pregnant) body mass index (BMI) is greater than 27, your GP or diabetes team should offer you support to manage or lose weight. It only takes a minute to work out your BMI.
What happens to your baby after the birth
Many babies whose mothers had gestational diabetes have no related health problems at all. However, your baby may also be at higher risk of becoming obese or developing type 2 diabetes in later life. If you go on to develop type 2 diabetes, your child has a 2–4 percent chance of developing it in later life. This figure will be higher if there are also other risk factors – for example, if others in your family also have the condition, or if you are of South Asian, African or African-Caribbean origin. This risk is partly due to genetic factors, but also because of things like body weight and lifestyle such as diet and exercise levels.
Breastfeed your baby if you can, as this reduces the chance of obesity, which can lead to type 2 diabetes and other medical problems, in later life. As your child grows older, try to make sure he eats a healthy, balanced diet. Help your baby to move by reaching, playing and tummy time. Once he can walk help him be active for at least three hours each day, such as climbing, running or playing on a bike. Children aged 5–18 need at least an hour of activity that gets them breathing faster and harder each day. It is also important to encourage them to spend less time sitting for extended period e. watching TV. The best way to do this is for the whole family to adopt a healthy lifestyle as part of your daily life so that he can develop healthy habits from the start.
What all this means for you
As we have seen, gestational diabetes does bring increased risks for you and your child, but you can reduce those dramatically by living a healthy lifestyle. Changing habits is never easy – especially long-held ones such as the foods we eat and our level of physical activity – but there are so many benefits. A healthier lifestyle will not just reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes – it will also make you less likely to develop all sorts of health problems, including cancer, heart disease, stroke, depression, arthritis and even dementia. If you do want to improve your diet or do more exercise and need support, talk to your GP. There are a number of ways they can help you, from helping you set goals to giving you a prescription for reduced-cost exercise or weight management sessions.
Gestational diabetes may not just affect you physically – it can affect your emotional well-being, because it has an impact on so many aspects of pregnancy and childbirth. For most women, gestational diabetes will become a distant memory once your baby is born. But it can cause distress, and does have longer-term implications as it flags up that you are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
If your experience of gestational diabetes or birth has stayed with you in some way, or if you are worried about ongoing health problems, talk to your health visitor, midwife or GP. If you do not receive the support you need feel free to call the Tommy’s midwives on 0800 0147 800.
- CEMACH 2007:81, NCCWCH 2008;76
- Personal communication Ruth Bell 29 January 2015.
- RCOG 2013 ‘Gestational diabetes’ patient leaflet. https://www.rcog.org.uk/en/patients/patient-leaflets/gestational-diabetes/
- Diabetes UK 2014, Diabetes: facts and stats
ℹLast reviewed on March 1st, 2015. Next review date March 1st, 2018.