Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that develops in pregnancy. It is characterized by high blood sugars and occurs when a mother’s pancreas does not make enough insulin to meet the increased demands of pregnancy. This increased demand is due to hormones from the placenta that block the normal action of insulin. These hormones rise in the second trimester, so this is when women are typically screened for gestational diabetes.
In gestational diabetes, the major concern is that the higher blood sugar levels cross the placenta into the baby, and the baby converts the sugar to fat. These babies may get too big, making for a more difficult delivery. Also, the baby may get used to higher sugars and so just after birth, the baby’s blood sugar may drop and they can have low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). We have never seen a baby born with diabetes because the mom had gestational diabetes.
For the mother, gestational diabetes usually resolves once the baby is born. Because the mother’s pancreas is now known to need a little help, women who had gestational diabetes are at higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes later in life, a risk that can be reduced by adopting healthy eating and physical activity habits.
Most cases of gestational diabetes respond very well to eating healthy food and physical activity. Walking after meals helps use up blood sugar and keeps it controlled. About one third of women may need insulin/blood sugar lowering medications in addition to healthy eating and physical activity. Medications taken during pregnancy for GDM are almost always stopped once the baby is born.