What is gestational diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that can develop during pregnancy. With careful management, most women will have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies.

Some of the hormones your body produces during pregnancy stop insulin working as well as it normally does. Insulin is a hormone that helps to lower glucose levels in the blood.

Sometimes your body can’t produce enough insulin during pregnancy. Or sometimes your body produces high levels of insulin but the insulin can’t lower your glucose levels – this is called insulin resistance. This means that you will have high glucose levels in your blood, which leads to gestational diabetes.

Gestational diabetes usually starts in the middle or second half of pregnancy. Occasionally gestational diabetes can cause serious problems, especially if it isn’t diagnosed or treated.

“I think it's a big shock for some women 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.”

Emily

How common is gestational diabetes?

If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, or you have been told you are at risk, it is natural to feel concerned. But gestational diabetes is common. About 18% of pregnant women will develop it.

What causes gestational diabetes?

Researchers don't know exactly what causes gestational diabetes and why some women get it and others don't. Any woman can develop gestational diabetes, but we do know that there are some things that increase your risk.

Find out more about the causes of gestational diabetes.

How could gestational diabetes affect my baby?

If your glucose level is too high, your baby will produce more insulin. This can make your baby grow faster and larger than normal, which may affect when and how you give birth. It can also lead to low glucose in your baby after birth.

Sadly, gestational diabetes, especially if it isn’t diagnosed or treated, can increase the risk of stillbirth, and neonatal death (the baby dying around the time of the birth).

This sounds frightening, but try to remember that with careful management, most women who develop diabetes in pregnancy have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies.

If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, you will have extra care throughout your pregnancy. Your healthcare team will give you advice about diet and exercise to help you monitor your glucose levels and keep them in the target range, which will reduce your risks.

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

What are the symptoms of gestational diabetes?

There are often no symptoms of gestational diabetes, although some women may develop symptoms if their glucose levels becomes too high.

How is gestational diabetes diagnosed?

Your midwife will ask you about the risk factors for developing gestational diabetes at your booking appointment. You’ll be offered a test for gestational diabetes if any of these apply to you.

Your midwife will also test your urine during all your antenatal appointments, which may show increased levels of glucose.

What is the treatment for gestational diabetes?

The good news is that gestational diabetes can be managed to reduce the risks to your pregnancy. Once it is diagnosed, you will have extra appointments and specialists who will help you during your pregnancy. The way to manage gestational diabetes is through diet and exercise to manage your weight or through combining diet and exercise with medication.

“From my experience, the diabetes team went above and beyond and the support was fantastic and really helped.”

Stephanie

Will I still have diabetes after I give birth?

Gestational diabetes usually goes away after birth, but it does mean that you’re more likely to develop type 2 diabetes in the future. You can reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by eating a healthy, balanced diet and exercise to manage your weight after birth.

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.

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

Am I more likely to get gestational diabetes again?

Yes, if you’ve had gestational diabetes before you are more likely to develop it in your next pregnancy. Maintaining a healthy weight, eating a healthy, balanced diet and exercising before you get pregnant again will help.

Find out more about planning a pregnancy if you’ve had gestational diabetes before.

Read more

Sources

Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (2013) Gestational diabetes https://www.rcog.org.uk/globalassets/documents/patients/patient-information-leaflets/pregnancy/pi-gestational-diabetes.pdf

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

Hide details

    Last reviewed on July 21st, 2022. Next review date July 21st, 2023.

    Was this information useful?

    Yes No

    Comments

    Please note that these comments are monitored but not answered by Tommy’s. Please call your GP or maternity unit if you have concerns about your health or your baby’s health.

    Your comment

    Add new comment