Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that can develop during pregnancy. It’s temporary and should go away after your baby is born. We discuss what it is and what this means for you and your baby.
If you or your partner is diagnosed with gestational diabetes, it’s good to keep in mind that:
Gestational diabetes can be managed safely.
It’s fairly common for pregnant women to develop diabetes during their pregnancy, it affects around 1 in 20 pregnant women.
Gestational diabetes is temporary and should go once you have your baby.
(NICE, 2015; NHS Choices, 2016)
What is gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is a temporary form of diabetes that can develop during pregnancy. It leads to high amounts of sugar in the blood but this usually returns to normal after giving birth.
- Gestational diabetes develops if your body doesn’t produce enough insulin for the extra needs during pregnancy. Insulin is a hormone that helps control your blood sugar levels.
- It can occur at any stage of your pregnancy but is more common in the second half.
- It can be managed safely and should go away after your baby is born.
- Gestational diabetes raises the risk of you and your baby having health problems during pregnancy and after birth. Good detection and management of your gestational diabetes reduce the chances of developing these health problems.
- You will be offered extra care and support to manage your diabetes and reduce any risks to you and your baby. (NICE, 2015; NHS Choices, 2016)
What are the symptoms?
Often there are no obvious symptoms that you have gestational diabetes. Most cases are picked up when your blood sugar level is tested during antenatal checks.
Some women may develop symptoms if their blood sugar level gets too high, like:
being more thirsty than usual
weeing more often than usual
tiredness. (NHS Choices, 2016)
Some of these can be common symptoms during pregnancy, so aren't necessarily a sign of gestational diabetes. Do speak to your midwife or GP if you're worried.
Who is at risk of gestational diabetes?
Some women are more likely than others to get gestational diabetes in pregnancy. You have a higher risk if:
Your body mass index (BMI) was higher than 30 before you became pregnant.
You have previously given birth to a large baby weighing 4.5kg (10lb) or more.
- Had gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy.
You have a family history of diabetes, for example one of your parents or a brother or sister has diabetes.
- Your family’s ethnicity is south Asian, Chinese, African-Caribbean or Middle Eastern. (NICE, 2015; NHS Choices, 2016)
Your midwife or GP will ask about these risk factors at your first antenatal appointment – at around 8 to 12 weeks of your pregnancy. You will be offered a test for gestational diabetes if any of these risk factors apply to you (NICE, 2015; NHS Choices, 2016).
How will gestational diabetes affect my pregnancy and my baby?
Most women who develop diabetes in pregnancy have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies.
Occasionally, gestational diabetes can cause problems like:
Your baby being bigger than usual, which may lead to complications during birth and so increases the likelihood of an induced labour or caesarean.
Too much amniotic fluid around your baby (polyhydramnios).
It may cause your baby to be born prematurely.
You may develop pre-eclampsia – a condition that causes high blood pressure during pregnancy and can cause pregnancy complications if not treated.
Your baby could develop low blood sugar after birth, or yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice) after they are born, which may require treatment in hospital.
Stillbirth – although this is rare. (NICE, 2015; NHS Choices, 2016)
What is the treatment for gestational diabetes?
Controlling your blood sugar levels during pregnancy reduces your risk of complications. You can do this through healthy eating and regular exercise. Some women may also need medication (NICE, 2015; NHS Choices, 2016). Find out more in our article about treating gestational diabetes.
How will my care be different if I have gestational diabetes?
It can be reassuring to know that your healthcare team will monitor you more closely during pregnancy and birth to check for any issues (NICE, 2015; NHS Choices, 2016). Find out more in our article about treating gestational diabetes.
Gestational diabetes and giving birth
Your midwife or GP will discuss with you the timing for giving birth and where to have your baby.
The latest healthcare guidance is that women with gestational diabetes should give birth in hospital no later than 40 weeks and six days (if in England and Wales) into their pregnancies.
If you have not had your baby by this time, they will recommend induction of labour.
caesarean birth may be advised if your baby is very large (macrosomia). (NICE, 2015; NHS Choices, 2016).
What will happen after I give birth?
Gestational diabetes usually goes away after your baby is born – when your hormones return to their normal levels.
- Your blood glucose levels will be tested before you leave hospital and once again at your 6 to 13 week postnatal check.
- After having gestational diabetes, you’re more likely to develop the condition in your next pregnancy, so it’s important to talk to your GP when planning future pregnancies.
- You’re more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later in life. The risk is higher in the 4 to 5 years after your gestational diabetes. It’s important to talk to your GP about what you can do to reduce this risk.
If you have any concerns, contact your midwife or GP.
This page was last reviewed in July 2017
Further information and support
Our helpline offers practical and emotional support in many areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700.
You might find attending one of our Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.
Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.
NCT’s support line offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700.
Read our article about gestational diabetes treatment.
Find out more about gestational diabetes and how to manage it from the NHS Choices website. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/gestational-diabetes/
Read Diabetes UK’s new guide to understanding gestational diabetes, with practical tips for having a healthy pregnancy. https://www.diabetes.org.uk/Documents/gestational-diabetes/0302A-gestational-diabetes-guide-0915.pdf
Contact the Diabetes UK careline on 0345 123 2399, Monday to Friday, 9am–6pm.