Every year, approximately 2–10% of pregnancies in the United States are affected by gestational diabetes. After receiving a gestational diabetes diagnosis, one of the first things that come to mind for many people is: will gestational diabetes have an effect on my baby?
Understanding the short- and long-term risks to you and your baby and how to properly manage your gestational diabetes can help you foster a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby.
What Is Gestational Diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that can develop during pregnancy in people without preexisting diabetes.
Gestational diabetes typically develops around the 24th week of pregnancy. Unlike type 1 diabetes, gestational diabetes isn’t caused by insufficient insulin production. Instead, hormones produced during pregnancy have a blocking effect on insulin, making it less effective. This is often referred to as insulin resistance. Insulin is a hormone that allows your cells to absorb glucose from the blood, and glucose is the main source of fuel for your brain and body. Without enough effective insulin, blood glucose levels rise and can lead to hyperglycemia.
Management of gestational diabetes typically involves routinely checking your blood glucose levels, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and monitoring your baby’s health. When diet and exercise aren’t enough to maintain healthy blood glucose levels, your healthcare provider may prescribe insulin or other blood glucose-lowering medications, such as metformin.
Gestational Diabetes: Effect on Baby
It’s normal to worry about how gestational diabetes will affect your baby. If your gestational diabetes is not properly managed, excess glucose can pass through the placenta, causing your baby to have high blood glucose levels. This can then trigger the baby’s pancreas to produce extra insulin. High blood glucose levels combined with increased insulin production can cause your baby to get more energy than is needed for its growth and development. Consequently, your baby may be at increased risk of the following:
- Excessive birth weight (9+ pounds)
- Premature birth
- Low blood glucose (hypoglycemia) shortly after birth
- Breathing problems
- Obesity and type 2 diabetes later in life
Gestational diabetes can affect your health, too. During pregnancy, gestational diabetes may increase your risk of high blood pressure (preeclampsia), which can cause harm to both you and your unborn baby. Preeclampsia increases the risk of early birth and, in some cases, can cause you to have seizures or a stroke during labor or delivery.
Gestational diabetes can also affect your health after giving birth. Research suggests that people with a history of gestational diabetes may have a nearly tenfold higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those with a normoglycemic pregnancy. However, emerging research suggests that increasing physical activity (after pregnancy) may lower the risk of progression from gestational diabetes to type 2 diabetes.
Navigating Gestational Diabetes
During pregnancy, your body goes through profound changes, and receiving a diagnosis of gestational diabetes can be overwhelming. The good news is that by taking steps to effectively manage your gestational diabetes, you can set yourself up for a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby.
The goal of gestational diabetes treatment is to keep your blood glucose levels within your target range. By maintaining healthy blood glucose levels through a healthy diet, routine exercise, and, in some cases, medication, you may reduce your risk of complications.
Monitoring Your Blood Glucose Levels
While people’s ideal range may differ, the American Diabetes Association’s guidelines for people testing blood glucose levels during pregnancy are as follows:
- Before a meal: 95 mg/dL or less
- One hour after a meal: 140 mg/dL or less
- Two hours after a meal: 120 mg/dL or less
Your blood glucose goals may be more or less stringent depending on the treatment plan created by your healthcare team. Your healthcare team can also provide guidance on how often to check your blood glucose levels.
To check your blood glucose levels, your healthcare provider will likely recommend you use a blood glucose monitor (BGM). Standard BGMs usually come in a kit along with a lancing device and lancets, test strips, and batteries. To check blood glucose levels using a standard BGM, the general process is as follows:
- After washing and drying your hands, insert a test strip into the meter
- Use your lancing device and lancet to obtain a blood sample from one of your fingers
- Place the drop of blood on the test strip
- View your blood glucose level on the monitor’s display panel
If you find this process to be too cumbersome or difficult to do when you’re out and about, you might consider using an automatic blood glucose monitor (ABGM), such as the POGO Automatic® Monitor, which allows for automatic lancing and blood collection with the press of a button. No need to haul around test strips and lancets wherever you go.
Eating a Healthy Diet
Eating a healthy diet is essential to effectively managing gestational diabetes and promoting the health of yourself and your baby. While your healthcare team can provide you with a specific gestational diabetes diet plan, the plate method is a great way to ensure you’re getting enough lean protein and non-starchy veggies while limiting the amount of high-carb foods that have the greatest impact on your blood glucose levels. For a nine-inch diameter plate, fill your plate using the following portions:
- ½ plate of non-starchy vegetables (salad, green beans, broccoli, carrots, etc.)
- ¼ plate of lean protein (chicken, turkey, beans, eggs, and tofu)
- ¼ plate with carbs (starchy vegetables like potatoes, rice, pasta, beans, and fruit)
What you drink matters just as much as what you eat. The American Diabetes Association recommends drinking low- or zero-calorie beverages, such as water, unsweetened tea, diet sodas, 100% juice with no added sugar, and skim or nonfat milk.
Exercising while pregnant, especially later in your pregnancy, can be a challenge—but you’re not expected to do high-intensity exercise. Walking, cycling, swimming, low-impact aerobics, strength training, and yoga are great options for many people who are pregnant. In general, it’s recommended that people with gestational diabetes do both aerobic and resistance exercise at a moderate intensity, a minimum of three times a week, for 30–60 minutes per session.
Supporting the Health of Yourself and Your Baby
While gestational diabetes can affect your baby, there are steps you can take to support a healthy pregnancy. By working with your healthcare team to develop diet, exercise, and blood glucose monitoring plans, you can set yourself and your baby up for success while also learning healthy habits that you can carry with you as you enter parenthood. Continuing to incorporate healthy habits following your pregnancy may help reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
Robert Miller is a customer experience specialist committed to helping people navigate the world of diabetes. He focuses on finding innovative tools and strategies that make diabetes management easier to support long-term wellness.
All content on this website is for educational purposes only and does not replace the guidance of your healthcare practitioner. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new healthcare regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.