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Learn more about the Diabetes and Endocrine Disorders in Pregnancy Program at the Women's Medicine Collaborative
Gestational diabetes mellitus is the onset of elevated blood sugar levels during pregnancy. It develops when the body is not able to make and effectively use the insulin it needs for pregnancy. With little insulin, glucose builds up in the blood to high levels. This is called hyperglycemia.
Women with unmanaged gestational diabetes have a higher risk of having infants with excessive birth weight, which can lead to complications during labor. There is an increased risk for obesity, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes for both the woman and child.
Gestational diabetes typically develops during the last half of pregnancy. Blood sugar levels usually return to normal soon after delivery. However, having gestational diabetes puts you at higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Your doctor should continue to monitor and manage your blood sugar even after delivery.
Gestational diabetes affects approximately 1 in 7 births and affects 5 to 18 percent of women worldwide.
For most women, gestational diabetes does not cause noticeable signs or symptoms.
It is not known what specifically causes gestational diabetes. During pregnancy, the placenta produces high levels of various hormones, many of which impair insulin’s ability to control blood sugar levels. Gestational diabetes develops when the pancreas, which makes the insulin, cannot make enough insulin to keep blood sugar levels within a target range.
While any woman can develop gestational diabetes, some of the risk factors include:
Your doctor will have to test you to determine if you have gestational diabetes. However, there are some changes you can make at home to manage your gestational diabetes. Some of these treatments include:
When you're pregnant, your doctor should check you for gestational diabetes as part of your prenatal care. If you develop gestational diabetes, you may need more-frequent checkups. To ensure your blood sugar level has returned to normal, your doctor should check your blood sugar after delivery and again in six weeks. Once you've had gestational diabetes, it's a good idea to get your blood sugar level tested regularly.
If you have been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, you should call your doctor right away if:
Your obstetrician or primary care provider can test you for gestational diabetes and help you manage symptoms. If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, you may be referred to additional health professionals who specialize in diabetes, including an endocrinologist, a registered dietitian or a diabetes educator.