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What is gestational diabetes?

Gestational diabetes means higher than normal blood glucose levels during pregnancy or simply, diabetes in pregnancy.

High blood glucose (blood sugar) is caused because the mother can’t produce enough insulin (a pregnant woman’s insulin needs are two to three times that of normal). The increased need for insulin may be because of placental hormones that make it harder for insulin to do its job, or because of the growth demands of the developing baby.

Unlike other types of diabetes, gestational diabetes is not permanent and blood glucose usually returns to normal after the baby is born. However, having gestational diabetes can increase the chances of developing type 2 diabetes in the future, and of having gestational diabetes in subsequent pregnancies.

The risks to the mother may include increased chances of:

  • Needing a caesarean section to deliver your baby
  • Developing pre-eclampsia, a condition that causes high blood pressure during pregnancy and can lead to pregnancy complications if not treated
  • Getting urinary tract infections

If left untreated or undiagnosed, the risks to the baby may include:

  • An increased risk that the baby will be too large or overweight and having a difficult delivery
  • Having a serious low blood glucose level soon after birth
  • Prolonged new-born jaundice
  • Low levels of calcium in its blood
  • Respiratory distress syndrome (this can be quite dangerous)

You may be at risk of developing gestational diabetes if you have one or more of the following:

  • A family history of type 2 diabetes in a close relative (parents or brothers and sisters)
  • If you had gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy
  • If a previous baby had a birth defect
  • If you are very overweight
  • If you are aged over 30
  • If you have had a previous stillbirth or spontaneous miscarriage
  • If you’ve had a previous large baby (greater than 4 kilos )
  • If you have a history of pregnancy-induced high blood pressure, urinary tract infections, or polyhydramnious (too much amniotic fluid)

How is gestational diabetes managed?

Gestational diabetes should be managed by specialist health care professionals. In most cases, gestational diabetes is able to be managed by diet and exercise during the pregnancy. It usually disappears after the baby is born once the need for high levels of insulin (during pregnancy) has gone.

Some women with gestational diabetes require insulin to manage their blood sugar levels in a healthy range during the pregnancy. If insulin is required, it can help to keep both the mother and baby healthy during the pregnancy.