What is Gestational Diabetes?

O. Wallace

Gestational diabetes is a condition experienced by pregnant women who develop high blood sugar, or glucose, levels. It is usually diagnosed by the 28th week. Nearly four percent of pregnant women are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, which equals approximately 135,000 women in the United States annually.

Gestational diabetes affects about 4 percent of pregnant women.
Gestational diabetes affects about 4 percent of pregnant women.

Gestational diabetes occurs when a woman’s pregnant body cannot produce and utilize the insulin it needs for pregnancy correctly. As a result, the unused glucose increases and compounds in the blood and results in hyperglycemia. Although the exact cause of gestational diabetes is not known, it may have something to do with the fact that normal pregnancy hormones from the placenta block the process insulin goes through in the mother, resulting in insulin resistance. Because gestational diabetes develops later in a pregnancy, it usually does not affect the baby in terms of birth defects.

Women with gestational diabetes need to watch their sugar intake.
Women with gestational diabetes need to watch their sugar intake.

If the condition is treated incorrectly, the baby can end up with high levels of glucose in his or her blood. The baby, in turn, churns out extra insulin from the pancreas to counteract the high glucose. The extra energy the baby gets as a result of the overproduction of insulin results in stored fat. As a result, babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes tend to have higher birth weights. Gestational diabetes can lead to an elevated risk of injury to the baby during delivery, breathing problems, obesity and development of type 2 diabetes later in life.

Treatment of gestational diabetes includes lowering blood glucose levels through strict diet and exercise. Constant glucose monitoring, and possibly injections of insulin, may also be prescribed. Fortunately, gestational diabetes usually resolves itself with delivery. However, chances are that two in three women with gestational diabetes will develop the condition with subsequent pregnancies.

Risk factors for developing gestational diabetes include obesity, previous history of diabetes, family history of diabetes, age over 30, high blood pressure and frequent urinary tract infections. Women who have had large babies, stillbirths, miscarriages or birth defects in previous pregnancies are also at a higher risk for developing the condition.

With any type of diabetes, prevention is key. A woman hoping to get pregnant should be within 20% of her ideal body weight, eat a healthy diet and exercise on a regular basis. A healthy lifestyle increases a woman's chances of enjoying a healthy, complication free pregnancy.

Gestational diabetes is determined by blood testing.
Gestational diabetes is determined by blood testing.

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Discussion Comments


The most common problem a baby born to a gestational diabetes-affected mother is called hypoglycemia. Healthy eating, careful monitoring of blood sugar, and pregnancy-appropriate exercise are all important preventative measures women with gestational diabetes should take in order to ensure the health of the baby.


Increased thirst, frequent genital/urinary tract infections, simultaneous increased hunger and weight loss, fatigue, and blurred vision are all signs of gestational diabetes. These symptoms are usually all present, indicating the disease. A health care provider must be contacted immediately if you notice these symptoms as their aggravation can lead to birth defects.

These symptoms will occur around the 24th-28th week of pregnancy. Most women who have gestational diabetes during a pregnancy will get it again in their next pregnancies. Gestational diabetes also increases the risk of Type 2 Diabetes in the future.


Those women with gestational diabetes are encouraged to be physically active. Physical activity has been proven to improve insulin sensitivity. Yoga particularly affects positive glucose transportation and metabolism. This can inevitably cause good changes in lipid metabolism and regulation of glucose output.


Gestational diabetes requires more frequent visits to the doctor or midwife to monitor the condition. If treated properly, there is a significantly lowered risk of complication for both the pregnant woman and the fetus/baby.


Approximately 2-3% of pregnant women get gestational diabetes.

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