What is gestational diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that can develop during pregnancy. When it’s managed with care, most people will have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies.

Gestational diabetes is a condition where your blood sugar (glucose) level is too high. It is a type of diabetes that can develop during pregnancy. It tends to go away again after the birth.

Gestational diabetes is most often caused by hormones that you produce when you’re having a baby. Some of these stop insulin (a hormone that helps to lower blood sugar) from working as it should. 

This is called insulin resistance. Even though your body is making plenty of insulin, the insulin does not work well and your blood sugar level rises. This leads to gestational diabetes.

Some people do not produce enough insulin to meet the increased need during pregnancy, but this is much less common.

Gestational diabetes may start in the middle or second half of pregnancy. It can cause serious problems. But the risk to you and your baby can usually be reduced if it is monitored and managed

“I think it's a big shock for some people when they are diagnosed with gestational diabetes. They feel like they have caused this, somehow. My message is that they haven't failed, and it isn't their fault.”


How common is gestational diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is common. Around 1 in every 20 pregnant people will develop it – and the true figure is likely to be higher. So while it’s natural to feel concerned if you have gestational diabetes, you’re not on your own.

What causes gestational diabetes?

No-one knows quite why some people get gestational diabetes and others don't. Anyone can develop gestational diabetes, but there are some things that increase your risk. 

Find out more about the causes of gestational diabetes.

How could gestational diabetes affect my baby?

Gestational diabetes can cause problems for your baby, both before and after birth. For example, high blood sugar can make your baby grow faster and larger than normal. This could affect when and how you give birth

After birth, your baby may be more likely to develop certain health problems

Sadly, gestational diabetes can occasionally cause serious complications, such as your baby dying before or soon after the birth. This is bound to be scary to read, but it is uncommon – as long as your gestational diabetes is detected, and managed well

Try to keep in mind that most people who develop diabetes in pregnancy have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies. You will get extra care and advice from your healthcare team throughout your pregnancy, as well as treatment to help manage your blood sugar levels, if you need it.

Find out more about how gestational diabetes may affect your pregnancy and your baby.

What are the symptoms of gestational diabetes?

Gestational diabetes often does not cause any symptoms. It may well only be detected when your blood sugar level is tested during your pregnancy. But some people can have symptoms if their blood sugar levels get too high.

Read about the possible symptoms of gestational diabetes.

How is gestational diabetes diagnosed?

Your midwife will ask you some questions at your first antenatal (‘booking’) appointment, to see if you have any risk factors for gestational diabetes. If you do, you’ll be offered a test for gestational diabetes.

You may also be offered a test if any of your routine tests during pregnancy find sugar in your urine (wee).

What is the treatment for gestational diabetes?

The good news is that gestational diabetes can usually be managed, reducing the risks to your pregnancy. If you are diagnosed, you will have extra appointments, and support from specialists. 

Gestational diabetes can often be managed by changing your diet and doing exercise. This can help to lower your blood sugar. If these changes alone aren’t enough, you may need medication as well.

“The diabetes team went above and beyond. The support was fantastic and really helped.”


Will I still have diabetes after I give birth?

Gestational diabetes tends to go away after the birth. But it does mean you’re more likely to develop type 2 diabetes in the future. You should have regular blood tests to check for this. 

You can reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes in the future by eating a healthy diet, doing regular exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight after the birth.

Find out more about the possible long-term implications of gestational diabetes.

Am I more likely to get gestational diabetes again?

Yes, if you’ve had gestational diabetes, you are more likely to get it again in any future pregnancies. 

There are ways to reduce this risk. Find out more about planning a pregnancy if you’ve had gestational diabetes before.

Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists, Diabetes UK (2021). Gestational diabetes - Information for you. Available at: https://www.rcog.org.uk/media/b10mqyfw/pi-gestational-diabetes.pdf (Accessed January 2024) (Page last reviewed 09/2021)

National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (2020). Diabetes in pregnancy: management from preconception to the postnatal period. NICE guideline 3. Available at: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng3 (Accessed January 2024) (Page last reviewed 16/12/2020)

Review dates
Reviewed: 29 February 2024
Next review: 28 February 2027