Long term implications of gestational diabetes
Gestational diabetes normally goes away after birth. But women who've had it are more likely to develop gestational diabetes in future pregnancies and type 2 diabetes. The good news is that you can reduce the risk of future health issues by maintaining a healthy weight, exercising and eating a balanced diet.
Increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes
If you’ve had gestational diabetes, you have up to a 1 in 2 chance of developing type 2 diabetes in the next 5-10 years. You are also at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes for the rest of your life.
There are other risk factors for type 2 diabetes, which include:
- being over 40 years (or 25 for south Asian people)
- having a close relative with diabetes (such as a parent, brother or sister)
- being overweight or obese (having a high BMI)
- being of south Asian, Chinese, African Caribbean or black African origin (even if you were born in the UK)
- having polycystic ovary syndrome
Type 2 diabetes is a lifelong condition that can affect your everyday life. If you develop the condition, you will need to keep an eye on your health and have regular check-ups. This is because it can lead to serious problems such as:
- miscarriage and stillbirth
- problems with your kidneys
- heart disease and stroke
- loss of feeling and pain (nerve damage) – causing problems with sex
- foot problems – like sores and infections
- vision loss and blindness.
This may sound worrying, but there is a lot you can do to reduce your risk of developing the condition. This includes:
- eating well
- staying active
- being the right weight for your height (having a normal BMI)
- stopping smoking.
A healthy lifestyle will not just reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes, it will also make you less likely to develop all sorts of other health problems. These include cancer, heart disease, stroke, depression, arthritis and even dementia.
Making changes such as eating better and losing weight can sound simple but sometimes making long-lasting changes can be difficult. It’s important to get support from friends and family, as well as any local services. For example, you could ask your GP about access to:
- a weight-loss programme or group
- a registered dietitian or exercise specialist
- a type 2 diabetes prevention programme
- local NHS Stop Smoking Services
- other local services to help you move more and eat better.
Diabetes UK also have a lot of information about preventing type 2 diabetes.
Getting regular check-ups
You should have a blood test to check for diabetes 6 to 13 weeks after giving birth, and once every year after that if the result is normal. Speak to your GP for more information about getting tested.
You don’t have to wait for a year if you’re having any symptoms. Make an appointment with your GP if you experience any of the following:
- weeing more than usual, particularly at night
- feeling thirsty all the time
- feeling very tired
- losing weight without trying to
- itching around your vagina, or repeatedly getting thrush
- cuts or wounds taking longer to heal
- blurred vision.
Getting pregnant again
If you’ve had gestational diabetes, you are at risk of getting type 2 diabetes or of getting gestational diabetes again in your next pregnancy. If you’re planning to get pregnant again, taking steps to live a healthier lifestyle now will:
- improve your fertility
- reduce your risk of getting type 2 diabetes
- reduce your risk of getting gestational diabetes again in your next pregnancy
- bring down your risk of problems in pregnancy
- protect your baby’s future health.
Find out more about getting pregnant if you’ve had gestational diabetes before.
Risks for your baby in later life
Many babies whose mothers had gestational diabetes have no related health problems. But research has suggested that your baby may be at greater risk of developing obesity and or diabetes in later life.
Again, there are things you can do to protect your child’s health, such as encouraging them to eat a balanced diet, exercise and maintain a healthy weight.
Breastfeeding has long-term health benefits for your baby that last right into adulthood. For example, it can help reduce the risk of obesity and diabetes. Because breastfeeding is a natural experience, many new mums assume that they should be able to do it straightaway. In reality, it may come easily to some, but not others. Don’t worry if this is the case for you, there is lots of support available. You can ask your midwife or health visitor for more information.
You can also encourage your baby to be active from an early age by having some tummy time. Tummy time means giving your baby some time every day lying on their tummy. It helps your baby to build the muscles they need for sitting, crawling and eventually, walking. Tummy time is also a great way to bond with your baby.
When you start giving your baby solid foods (weaning), try to introduce them to a varied diet.
Start4Life has a lot of information and ideas about healthy lifestyle choices for you and your baby. They also have an email service that sends monthly tips up until your child starts school.
Gestational diabetes and your mental health
Because gestational diabetes may have had an impact on your pregnancy and labour, it may also have an impact on your mental health. For many women, gestational diabetes will become a distant memory once their baby is born. But it may also cause some anxiety, perhaps because of concerns about your future health or what may happen if you get pregnant again.
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. You can also speak to one of our midwives by calling our pregnancy line on 0800 014 7800 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm), or email us at [email protected].
Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists (2013) Gestational diabetes https://www.rcog.org.uk/globalassets/documents/patients/patient-information-leaflets/pregnancy/pi-gestational-diabetes.pdf
NHS Choices. What is type 2 diabetes? https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/type-2-diabetes/ (Page last reviewed: 08/08/2017 Next review due: 08/08/2020)
NICE (2012). Type 2 diabetes: prevention in people at high risk https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ph38
Chang, S (2012) Smoking and Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. Diabetes & Metabolism Journal. 2012 Dec; 36(6): 399–403.
NICE (2015). Diabetes in pregnancy: management from preconception to the postnatal period. National Institute for health and care excellence https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng3
NHS Choices. Gestational diabetes https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/gestational-diabetes/ (Page last reviewed: 06/08/2019 Next review due: 06/08/2022)
Sue Macdonald, Gail Johnson, Mayes’ Midwifery. Edinburgh: Baillir̈e Tindall Elsevier, 2017), p.765-767