Gestational Diabetes

What Is Gestational Diabetes?


Gestational diabetes means you have high blood sugar levels during pregnancy. Your blood sugar levels were normal before you got pregnant.

If you have it, you can still have a healthy baby. Get help from your doctor and take simple steps to manage your blood sugar. After your baby is born, gestational diabetes usually goes away.

Gestational diabetes makes you more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, but it won’t definitely happen.

Symptoms of Gestational Diabetes

Women with gestational diabetes usually have no symptoms. Most learn they have it during routine pregnancy screening tests.

Rarely, especially if the gestational diabetes is out of control, you may notice:

  • Feeling more thirsty
  • Feeling more hungry and eating more
  • A need to pee more

What Causes Gestational Diabetes?

During pregnancy, the placenta makes hormones that can lead to a buildup of glucose in your blood. Usually, your pancreas can make enough insulin to handle that. If not, your blood sugar levels will rise and can cause gestational diabetes.

Risk Factors for Gestational Diabetes

It affects between 2% and 10% of pregnancies each year. You are more likely to get gestational diabetes if you:

  • Were overweight before you got pregnant
  • Are African-American, Asian, Hispanic, or Native American
  • Have high blood sugar levels, but not high enough to be diabetes
  • Have a family history of diabetes
  • Have had gestational diabetes before
  • Have high blood pressure or other medical complications
  • Have given birth to a large baby before (greater than 9 pounds)
  • Have given birth to a baby that was stillborn or had certain birth defects
  • Are older than 25

Gestational Diabetes Tests and Diagnosis

Gestational diabetes usually happens in the second half of pregnancy. Your doctor will check to see if you have gestational diabetes between weeks 24 and 28 of your pregnancy. You might get tested sooner if you're at high risk. 

To test for gestational diabetes, you’ll quickly drink a sugary drink. This will raise your blood sugar levels. An hour later, you’ll take a blood test to see how your body handled all that sugar. If the results show that your blood sugar is higher than a certain cutoff (anywhere from 130 milligrams per deciliter [mg/dL] or higher), you will need more tests. This means testing your blood sugar while fasting and a longer glucose test over a 3-hour period.

If your results are normal but you have a high risk of getting gestational diabetes, you may need a follow-up test later in your pregnancy to make sure you still don’t have it.


Gestational Diabetes Treatment

To treat your gestational diabetes, your doctor will ask you to:

  • Check your blood sugar levels four or more times a day.
  • Do urine tests that check for ketones, which mean that your diabetes is not under control
  • Eat a healthy diet that’s in line with your doctor’s recommendations
  • Make exercise a habit

Your doctor will track how much weight you gain and let you know if you need to take insulin or other medicine for your gestational diabetes.

Complications of Gestational Diabetes

For the baby

  • High birth weight
  • Early birth
  • Respiratory distress syndrome
  • Low blood sugar
  • Type 2 diabetes later in life

For the mother

  • Higher chance of C-section
  • High blood pressure and preeclampsia
  • Diabetes in a future pregnancy
  • Diabetes later in life

To prevent future diabetes or gestational diabetes, get tested for diabetes 6 to 12 weeks after you give birth and every 1 to 3 years after.

Diet & Exercise

Take these simple steps to hold off gestational diabetes:

  • Eat healthy, low-sugar diet: Follow a meal plan made for someone with diabetes. Trade sugary snacks like cookies, candy and ice cream for natural sugars like fruits, carrots and raisins. Add vegetables and whole grains and watch portion sizes.
  • Lose excess weight before you get pregnant: Doctors don’t recommend you lose weight during pregnancy. Dropping extra pounds before you get pregnant can make for a healthier pregnancy.
  • Exercise throughout pregnancy: Start before you get pregnant if you’re planning for a baby. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate activity most days of the week. Running, walking, swimming and biking are all good options.
  • Get appropriate prenatal care: Not only can your doctor screen you for this condition; she can offer advice on food, activity and weight loss. She can also point you to other health professionals, like nutritionists, that can help.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Michael Dansinger, MD on July 12, 2019



American Diabetes Association: "Gestational Diabetes."

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality: "Gestational Diabetes: A Guide for Pregnant Women."

American College of Nurse Midwives: "Gestational Diabetes."

Ohio State University Medical Center.

University of San Francisco Medical Center: “Diabetes in Pregnancy.”

Mayo Clinic: “Gestational diabetes.”

CDC: “Gestational Diabetes and Pregnancy.”

American Academy of Family Physicians: “Gestational Diabetes.”

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