Gestational Diabetes: How Serious Is It?

Gestational diabetes is diabetes that is first diagnosed during pregnancy. This condition affects up to 14% of pregnancies.

Diabetes occurs when your body cannot produce the extra insulin needed for pregnancy. Insulin converts blood sugar into energy. During the second half of your pregnancy, your body requires extra insulin to meet the demands of you and your baby. If your body is unable to meet this demand, you may have an excess of sugar in your blood and this could cause the onset of gestational diabetes.

Am I at risk of gestational diabetes?
You are most likely to develop gestational diabetes if you:

  • are overweight
  • have previously had a large baby (4.5kg or more)
  • developed gestational diabetes in an earlier pregnancy
  • have a family history of diabetes

Symptoms and diagnosis
If you are at risk of developing gestational diabetes, you will be offered an oral glucose tolerance test. This test will be carried out between weeks 24 and 28 of the pregnancy. Blood tests are used to determine your blood sugar levels.

A dipstick test will be done at each antenatal appointment to test for sugar in your urine. If high levels of sugar are present, this can be indicative of gestational diabetes, and further testing will be carried out.

Gestational diabetes can often be asymptomatic. However, you may experience:

  • tiredness
  • excessive thirst
  • excessive urination
  • blurred vision

You can reduce your risk of developing gestational diabetes by:

  • monitoring your weight gain
  • eating a healthy diet
  • continuing to exercise throughout the pregnancy
  • not smoking

Will gestational diabetes harm my baby?
This condition needs to be carefully controlled to avoid causing harm to your developing baby. If there are excessive levels of sugar in your blood, this could cross through the placenta and reach your baby. If this happens, there is a risk that your baby could grow large. Large babies can cause problems during the birth, and so if this happens you may be advised to have a planned caesarean section.

Gestational diabetes can also increase your baby’s risk of health problems such as jaundice and low blood sugar after the birth. Your baby’s blood sugar levels may be monitored after the birth.

Your baby will be more likely to develop type 2 diabetes in later life. By teaching your child about healthy eating, and ensuring he eats a balanced diet, you can reduce this risk.

Treatment for gestational diabetes
To manage gestational diabetes, you need to control your blood sugar levels. This can usually be done by:

  • eating a healthy diet
  • avoiding sugary foods and drinks
  • light exercise

You will be offered additional ultrasound scans to monitor your baby’s development later in the pregnancy. This is to check the baby’s growth and the amount of amniotic fluid present. You will probably be offered an scan every four weeks from week 28.

Up to 20% of sufferers cannot control their diabetes using the methods above. In this instance, you will be advised to either take medication or inject insulin to manage the condition.

Most women find that the diabetes disappears once the baby is born. You will be tested for diabetes at your postnatal check, and then again a year on. It is estimated that up to 20% of women diagnosed with gestational diabetes actually had undiagnosed diabetes prior to the pregnancy.

Written by Fiona, proud owner of a toddler, @fiona_peacock

This information is not intended to replace the advice of a trained medical doctor. Health & Parenting Ltd disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information, which is provided to you on a general information basis only and not as a substitute for personalized medical advice.  All contents copyright © Health & Parenting Ltd 2017. All rights reserved.