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Gestational diabetes: what is it? How can I avoid it? What does it mean for my child and me?

Updated: Dec 6, 2022

What is gestational diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that affects women during pregnancy [1, 2].

  • Important: risk assessment for gestational diabetes should be undertaken during the first prenatal visit [3]

  • It has been demonstrated that the treatment (or successful management) of gestational diabetes reduces severe consequences during pregnancy and following pregnancy [4]

  • Those who develop gestational diabetes are more likely to develop Type 2 Diabetes later in life.

What causes gestational diabetes?

As with Type 2 Diabetes, gestational diabetes results from a mother's glucose intolerance during pregnancy. This may result in the mother's body cannot produce enough insulin during pregnancy, or the hormones released by the placenta interfere with the actions of insulin [1, 2].

Risk factors for gestational diabetes:

  • Age

  • Ethnicity [5]

  • Economic status

  • Dietary patterns

  • Lack of exercise

  • Overweight

  • Sedentary lifestyle

  • Family history of gestational diabetes

  • Pre-diabetes diagnosis

  • Smoker [1, 6]

What are the symptoms of gestational diabetes?

Like with other forms of diabetes, gestational diabetes may present asymptomatically. However, some also experience:

  • Frequent urination

  • Unusual thirst

  • Sugar in urine

  • Blurred vision

  • Frequent infections

  • Fatigue [7]

What are the consequences of gestational diabetes?

The effects on the mother include:

  • Higher risk for developing Type 2 Diabetes later in life [8]

  • Uncontrolled high blood sugar can lead to additional cardiovascular diseases caused by Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes

  • Increased risk for caesarean section [9]

The effects on the child include:

  • Higher risk for respiratory distress syndrome [10]

  • Brachial plexus injury [10]

  • Hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) [10]

  • Seizures [10]

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or the whites of the eyes) [10]

  • Developmental delays in motor skills, such as walking [8]

  • Higher risk for developing Type 2 Diabetes later in life [11]

Does gestational diabetes go away?

Usually, gestational diabetes goes away after pregnancy.

Strategies to help prevent gestational diabetes.

While there is limited evidence to suggest that gestational diabetes is preventable [12-14], scientists still recommend the following:

  • Advocating for a healthier lifestyle

  • Losing weight before pregnancy [15]

  • Regular and early screening for gestational diabetes (glucose tolerance tests)

  • Exercise therapy

  • Diabetes education [15]

Management of gestational diabetes.

It has been demonstrated that the treatment (or successful management) of gestational diabetes reduces severe consequences during and after pregnancy [4]. Nevertheless, some of the management strategies are:

  • Light to moderate exercise [16]

  • Dietary management (consuming low glycaemic index foods)

  • Regular visits to the dietician

  • Weight control [15]

  • Diabetes education [15, 17]

  • Regular screening and monitoring of blood glucose levels [1, 17]

Let's better learn how to protect ourselves from diabetes

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Learn more about other forms of diabetes or additional cardiovascular effects from uncontrolled high blood sugar below...



[1] Reece EA, Leguizamón G, Wiznitzer A. Gestational diabetes: the need for common ground. The Lancet. 2009;373(9677):1789-97.

[2] Lindsay RS. Gestational diabetes: causes and consequences. The British Journal of Diabetes & Vascular Disease. 2009;9(1):27-31.

[3] American Diabetes Association. Gestational Diabetes Mellitus. Diabetes Care. 2004;27(suppl_1):s88-s90.

[4] Crowther CA, Hiller JE, Moss JR, McPhee AJ, Jeffries WS, Robinson JS. Effect of Treatment of Gestational Diabetes Mellitus on Pregnancy Outcomes. New England Journal of Medicine. 2005;352(24):2477-86.

[5] Lee KW, Ching SM, Ramachandran V, Yee A, Hoo FK, Chia YC, et al. Prevalence and risk factors of gestational diabetes mellitus in Asia: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth. 2018;18(1).

[6] Zhang C, Rawal S, Chong YS. Risk factors for gestational diabetes: is prevention possible? Diabetologia. 2016;59(7):1385-90.

[7] Schneiderman EH. Gestational Diabetes: An Overview of a Growing Health Concern for Women. Journal of Infusion Nursing. 2010;33(1):48-54.

[8] Reece EA. The fetal and maternal consequences of gestational diabetes mellitus. The Journal of Maternal-Fetal & Neonatal Medicine. 2010;23(3):199-203.

[9] Jones CW. Gestational diabetes and its impact on the neonate. Neonatal Netw. 2001;20(6):17-23.

[10] Esakoff TF, Cheng YW, Sparks TN, Caughey AB. The association between birthweight 4000 g or greater and perinatal outcomes in patients with and without gestational diabetes mellitus. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2009;200(6):672.e1-4.

[11] Dabelea D, Knowler WC, Pettitt DJ. Effect of diabetes in pregnancy on offspring: follow-up research in the Pima Indians. J Matern Fetal Med. 2000;9(1):83-8.

[12] Tieu J, Crowther CA, Middleton P. Dietary advice in pregnancy for preventing gestational diabetes mellitus. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2008(2).

[13] Stafne SN, Salvesen KÅ, Romundstad PR, Eggebø TM, Carlsen SM, Mørkved S. Regular Exercise During Pregnancy to Prevent Gestational Diabetes: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Obstetrics & Gynecology. 2012;119(1):29-36.

[14] Bain E, Crane M, Tieu J, Han S, Crowther CA, Middleton P. Diet and exercise interventions for preventing gestational diabetes mellitus. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2015(4).

[15] Phelan S. Pregnancy: a “teachable moment” for weight control and obesity prevention. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. 2010;202(2):135.e1-.e8.

[16] Jovanovic-Peterson L, Durak EP, Peterson CM. Randomized trial of diet versus diet plus cardiovascular conditioning on glucose levels in gestational diabetes. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 1989;161(2):415-9.

[17] Cheung W. The management of gestational diabetes. Vascular Health and Risk Management. 2009:153.


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