What Is Gestational Diabetes?
Gestational diabetes happens when your blood sugar gets too high during pregnancy. It’s a type of diabetes that can develop even in otherwise healthy women.
Usually, your obstetrician or obstetrician/gynecologist (OB/GYN) diagnoses gestational diabetes in your late second or early third trimester. If you receive a diabetes diagnosis earlier in your pregnancy, you probably had diabetes before getting pregnant and didn’t know it.
How Common Is Gestational Diabetes?
Up to one in 10 pregnant women develop gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes has become increasingly common in the last several years. Experts think this could be related to more women getting pregnant in their 30s and later. This increase might also relate to more pregnancy among people with a high body mass index (BMI).
What Causes Gestational Diabetes?
Gestational diabetes develops because your body stops making enough insulin. Your pancreas produces insulin, a hormone that helps control your blood sugar levels.
All pregnant women experience hormonal changes that may make it harder for their bodies to use insulin efficiently. You develop gestational diabetes if your pancreas doesn’t create more insulin to keep up with these changes.
There’s no way to predict who will develop gestational diabetes and who won’t. Your health and family history make a difference, but even women with no risk factors can develop gestational diabetes.
Risk Factors for Gestational Diabetes
Gestational Diabetes Symptoms
Symptoms of gestational diabetes are rare. You typically only find out you have the condition when you get a screening. It’s standard to screen for gestational diabetes between 24–28 weeks of pregnancy.
Your OB/GYN may check for gestational diabetes earlier in your pregnancy if you have risk factors for the condition. These may include significant weight gain or a baby that measures large for their gestational age.
Usually, your OB/GYN will monitor and treat your gestational diabetes. They will refer you to a diabetes specialist (endocrinologist) for more complex cases. These complex cases include having diabetes diagnosed early in your pregnancy or having diabetes before pregnancy.
What Happens If Gestational Diabetes Is Not Controlled?
Without treatment, gestational diabetes may cause complications for you or your baby. You may go into labor early, and your baby may be too large for a vaginal delivery.
The condition also increases your chances of developing complications:
How Does Gestational Diabetes Affect Your Baby at Birth?
Gestational diabetes increases the risk that your baby will have certain complications at birth:
- Delivery via Caesarean section
- Large size for their gestational age
- Breathing problems
- Low blood sugar immediately after birth
Does Gestational Diabetes Affect the Baby Later in Life?
Babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes are more likely to be overweight or develop type 2 diabetes later in life. You can help your child lower these risks by feeding them nutritious meals and encouraging them to be active.
Gestational Diabetes Test
Your OB/GYN uses blood tests to diagnose gestational diabetes.
- Glucose screening test: You will drink a sugary liquid, and we will draw your blood one hour later. You'll need a glucose tolerance test if your blood sugar is higher than expected.
- Glucose tolerance test: You will drink a sugary liquid, and we will draw your blood at the one-hour, two-hour, and three-hour marks. You’ll fast overnight before a glucose tolerance test.
Gestational Diabetes Treatment
Most women with gestational diabetes can avoid complications with diet, exercise, and weight management. You may take medications if lifestyle changes alone aren’t effective.
You will need to check your blood sugar several times a day to ensure it stays within a safe range. Your care team will give you instructions for at-home blood sugar checks with a blood glucose meter. You’ll prick your finger when you wake up and before and after meals. Then you’ll record the results to share with your health care provider.
You may use a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) if you’re having trouble controlling your blood sugar. A CGM is a device that monitors your blood sugar throughout the day. You don’t prick your finger for blood sugar testing with the CGM. You’ll attach it to your body with a small catheter and wear the device—a small patch—on your arm or abdomen.
Gestational diabetes often worsens as you near the end of your pregnancy. Your care team will adjust your treatment plan so you stay as healthy as possible.
Gestational Diabetes Medication
Your OB/GYN may prescribe a medicine called Metformin, which helps control your blood sugar. You may need to give yourself insulin shots in some cases.
Gestational Diabetes Diet
You’ll meet with a diabetes educator who educates you about how certain foods affect your blood sugar. They will give you tips on how to manage gestational diabetes with your food:
- Eat three moderate-sized meals daily.
- Include lots of fruits and vegetables in your diet.
- Limit sugary and processed foods.
- Track your calories, making sure most of them come from healthy fat, protein, and whole grains.
What to Expect During Your First Appointment with a Diabetes Specialist
Your endocrinologist will start by asking about your dietary habits and exercise routine. They’ll also talk with you about checking your blood sugar and giving yourself insulin. Your endocrinologist may instruct you to use a CGM instead of finger pricks to check your blood sugar. They will spend time explaining how the CGM works, how to attach it, and how to use it.
How to Prevent Gestational Diabetes
There’s no way to guarantee that you won’t get gestational diabetes. But you can lower your risk by following a few healthy behaviors:
- Eat a nutrient-dense diet.
- Exercise regularly.
- Maintain a healthy body weight.
Does Gestational Diabetes Go Away?
Gestational diabetes typically goes away after you give birth. You’ll have a glucose tolerance test about 2–3 months after giving birth to check your blood sugar levels.
Some women may still have high blood sugar levels and get a prediabetes or type 2 diabetes diagnosis. In these cases, you will manage your blood sugar long-term with diet, exercise, and possibly medication.
Why Choose University of Utah Health?
We provide full-spectrum, specialized care for women with gestational diabetes. Our endocrinologists and OB/GYNs run a joint clinic to care for pregnant women with type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes. This coordinated model simplifies your care by allowing you to see every specialist efficiently, often during the same appointment.
Request a Referral
You will need a referral to see an endocrinologist for gestational diabetes. Make an appointment with your obstetrician by calling 801-213-2995 to learn more about referrals to endocrinology.