Gestational diabetes is a temporary condition some women develop during pregnancy (gestation), where their blood sugar levels — also known as blood glucose — become high. The first thing to know is that it’s not your fault if you get gestational diabetes. In fact, medical experts still don’t know why only some women get gestational diabetes and others don’t.
When you are pregnant, your appearance is not all that changes. The hormones that help your body do everything, from digesting food to affecting your growth or how you fight illness, change too. Some of your hormones will be in charge of making sure your fetus gets the nutrients it needs. And to do so, they will change the way your insulin does its job.
What is insulin?
Insulin is a hormone produced in your pancreas that helps you regulate the amount of sugar or glucose in your blood. Many foods have different types of sugar that help you get energy and fuel everything you do. Insulin helps you regulate all of them. So if you have insulin resistance, it means that your body is not regulating the sugar in the foods you eat.
Sometimes the sugar or glucose in your blood will be higher than what is considered normal. When that happens, it means you have gestational diabetes.
Women who get gestational diabetes have some things in common.
There are some things about you that could mean you have a higher chance of getting gestational diabetes. If you fit any or many of the items on this list, it doesn’t mean that you will get gestational diabetes. But it could mean that your chances are higher.
- you are 25 years old or older
- you are overweight
- one of your parents has type 2 diabetes
- you have a condition that causes insulin resistance, like polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) or the skin disorder acanthosis nigricans
- a doctor or medical staff told you before you were pregnant that you have high blood pressure
- you were diagnosed with gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy
- you have gained a large amount of weight during your current or previous pregnancy
- one or some of the medications you take are steroids
- you are pregnant with multiples, like twins or triplets
Some ethnic groups are also at a higher risk for developing gestational diabetes:
- Native Americans
- Pacific Islanders
Does gestational diabetes have symptoms?
The short answer is no. Which is why women who fit any of the descriptions in the list should get tested. If you fit many of the items on the list, your doctor may want to test you for gestational diabetes early in your pregnancy.
Can you prevent gestational diabetes?
There are no known ways to prevent gestational diabetes. But one thing you can do is lower your risk factors. Doing a little bit of exercise, like going for walks, and making healthy changes to your diet could make a difference. If you are not pregnant, but you are thinking of becoming pregnant and you are overweight, losing some weight could lower your chances of having high blood sugar when you do become pregnant.
How is gestational diabetes diagnosed?
Typically, a doctor will find out if a woman has gestational diabetes between weeks 24 and 28 of their pregnancy.
Learn more about the different tests doctors use to diagnose gestational diabetes.
Doctors will test the levels of sugar in your blood using different types of tests. So when you talk about gestational diabetes with your friends and family, you might find that your experiences are not the same.
There are two common ways to screen for gestational diabetes:
- Two-step testing.
You will be given a glucose liquid to drink. You will then have your blood drawn and tested after an hour. If your blood sugar is too high, you will get a second test. For the second part of the test, you will be asked to come back another day, and to not eat or drink anything before you do the test. You will be asked to drink the same glucose liquid and wait three hours to check your blood sugar.
- One-step testing.
You will be asked to not eat or drink anything for 8 to 14 hours before the test. They, you will be asked to drink a liquid that contains glucose. You will then have blood drawn before you drink the liquid, and again two more times every hour after you drink it. Each time, your blood glucose level will be checked.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), having gestational diabetes can increase your risk of high blood pressure during pregnancy. It can also increase your risk of having a large baby that needs to be delivered by cesarean section (C-section).
If you have gestational diabetes, your baby is at higher risk of:
- being very large (9 pounds or more), which can make delivery more difficult
- being born early, which can cause breathing and other problems
- having low blood sugar
- developing type 2 diabetes later in life
Gestational diabetes usually goes away after your baby is born. However, about 50% of women with gestational diabetes go on to develop type 2 diabetes. You can lower your risk by reaching a healthy body weight after delivery.
Taking charge of your health is important! If you have more questions about your health or about the changes you are going through, write them down and bring them to your doctor on your next visit.
Build Your Child’s Brighter Future!
Want to dive deeper into the health your child after they are born? Check out our Play and Learning guidance about Physical Health and Growth for:
- Babies —Your baby is exploring with all five senses and figuring out both her big and small muscles work.
- One-year-olds — She’s developing a sense of independence – with the fine and gross motor skills to match!
- Two-year-olds — When you take your toddler for a check-up, he’s learning all about the importance of good health and self-care.
- Three-year-olds — Your child is growing into a taller, bigger, stronger body that can do more new things every day.
- Pre-K learners — At this point she can handle (somewhat) delicate tasks, such as tying a knot.