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What Is Gestational Diabetes?

I’m not diabetic, but my doctor told me that I have gestational diabetes. What does that mean? And will it last beyond my pregnancy?
- Trish

Gestational diabetes is a kind of diabetes that comes on during pregnancy. It affects about 4% of all pregnant women, according to the American Diabetes Association. Gestational diabetes is often diagnosed on screening tests done between weeks 24 and 28 of pregnancy.

While doctors aren't sure what causes gestational diabetes, it is believed that hormones from the placenta may block the action of insulin in the mother. This means that the mother needs more insulin and sometimes her pancreas cannot make enough to transport the sugar in the blood into the cells for energy. The mother's blood has high levels of glucose, which can cross the placenta, giving the growing baby a high blood sugar level.

In response, the baby's pancreas starts making extra insulin to transport the sugar into the cells to be used for energy. When the pancreas can't keep up, the extra blood sugar is stored as fat on the baby, and that can lead to health problems for the unborn baby. Infants of diabetic mothers are at risk for abnormal growth, premature delivery, and breathing problems, among other things.

If your doctor diagnoses you with gestational diabetes, it's likely that you'll be started on a treatment plan aimed at getting glucose levels under control. This includes a plan to manage your nutrition, physical activity, and weight gain.

While most diabetes diagnosed during pregnancy resolves after delivery, some women will have gestational diabetes during future pregnancies and some may be more likely to develop diabetes as they get older.

And some women who are diagnosed while pregnant may actually have been diabetic before the pregnancy. In these cases, the diabetes does not disappear after delivery.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: April 2013