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What is Gestational Diabetes?

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Gestational diabetes is a condition in which your blood sugar levels become high during pregnancy. It affects up to 10% of women who are pregnant in the U.S. each year.

There are two classes of gestational diabetes. Women with class A1 can manage it through diet and exercise. Those who have class A2 need to take insulin or other medications.

Gestational diabetes goes away after you give birth. But it can affect your baby’s health, and it raises your risk of getting type 2 diabetes later in life. You can take steps so you and your baby stay healthy.

What are the symptoms of gestational diabetes?

It’s rare for gestational diabetes to cause symptoms. If you do experience symptoms, they’ll likely be mild. They may include:

  • fatigue
  • blurred vision
  • excessive thirst
  • excessive need to urinate
  • Snoring

Causes of gestational diabetes

Researchers don’t yet know why some women get gestational diabetes and others don’t. Excess weight before pregnancy often plays a role.

Normally, various hormones work to keep your blood sugar levels in check. But during pregnancy, hormone levels change, making it harder for your body to process blood sugar efficiently. This makes your blood sugar rise.

Who is at risk for gestational diabetes?

You’re at a higher risk of developing gestational diabetes if you:

  • are over the age of 25
  • have high blood pressure
  • have a family history of diabetes
  • were overweight before you became pregnant
  • gain a larger than normal amount of weight while you’re pregnant
  • are expecting multiple babies
  • have previously given birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds
  • have had gestational diabetes in the past
  • have had an unexplained miscarriage or stillbirth
  • have been on glucocorticoids
  • have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), acanthosis nigricans, or other conditions that are associated with insulin resistance

Complications that may affect your baby

If you have gestational diabetes, your baby may be at increased risk of:

Excessive birth weight. Higher than normal blood sugar in mothers can cause their babies to grow too large. Very large babies — those who weigh 9 pounds or more — are more likely to become wedged in the birth canal, have birth injuries or need a C-section birth.

Early (preterm) birth. High blood sugar may increase women’s risk of early labor and delivery before the due date. Or early delivery may be recommended because the baby is large.

Serious breathing difficulties. Babies born early to mothers with gestational diabetes may experience respiratory distress syndrome — a condition that makes breathing difficult.

Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Sometimes babies of mothers with gestational diabetes have low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) shortly after birth. Severe episodes of hypoglycemia may cause seizures in the baby. Prompt feedings and sometimes an intravenous glucose solution can return the baby’s blood sugar level to normal.

Obesity and type 2 diabetes later in life. Babies of mothers who have gestational diabetes have a higher risk of developing obesity and type 2 diabetes later in life.

Stillbirth. Untreated gestational diabetes can result in a baby’s death either before or shortly after birth.

Complications that may affect you

Gestational diabetes may also increase your risk of:

High blood pressure and preeclampsia. Gestational diabetes raises your risk of high blood pressure, as well as preeclampsia — a serious complication of pregnancy that causes high blood pressure and other symptoms that can threaten the lives of both mother and baby.

Having a surgical delivery (C-section). You’re more likely to have a C-section if you have gestational diabetes.

Future diabetes. If you have gestational diabetes, you’re more likely to get it again during a future pregnancy. You also have a higher risk of type 2 diabetes as you get older.

When to see a doctor

If possible, seek health care early — when you first think about trying to get pregnant — so your doctor can check your risk of gestational diabetes along with your overall wellness. Once you’re pregnant, your doctor will check you for gestational diabetes as part of your prenatal care.

If you develop gestational diabetes, you may need checkups more often. These are most likely to occur during the last three months of pregnancy, when your doctor will monitor your blood sugar level and your baby’s health.

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