What is gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy and goes away as the baby is born. Between 5 to 8 per cent of pregnant women will develop gestational diabetes and this usually occurs around week 24 to 28 of the pregnancy.
How do you get gestational diabetes?
During pregnancy, a degree of insulin resistance (where the insulin is not effective) occurs. To keep blood glucose levels in the non-diabetes range, mothers need to make 2 to 3 times more insulin than normal. Some mothers develop more insulin resistance than others and cannot make enough effective insulin. In this situation blood glucose levels become too high and gestational diabetes develops.
Women who are at more risk of developing gestational diabetes include those:
- mothers over the age of 30
- with a family history of type 2 diabetes
- who are overweight
- who are Indigenous Australians
- of South Asian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Middle Eastern or Polynesian/Melanesian descent
- who have had gestational diabetes, large babies or obstetric complications during previous pregnancies
- who have undiagnosed diabetes without any symptoms before the pregnancy.
Will this affect my baby?
Gestational diabetes will not lead to your baby being born with diabetes.
In gestational diabetes, excess glucose passes through the placenta to the baby. This may lead to the baby growing larger than average. At birth, there is also the risk the baby's blood glucose levels may be too low. Baby may also have suckling and some breathing problems.
Gestational diabetes can also lead to high blood pressure during pregnancy.
Managing gestational diabetes
If you have been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, it is important to work closely with your doctor or health care team to keep your blood glucose levels in your target range.
Key management techniques include enjoying a healthy eating pattern that is low in fat (especially saturated fat), high in fibre and incorporating some low GI foods with each meal and being physically active.
This is not only for when you are pregnant, but will also reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future, and reduce the risk for rest of the family.
Your doctor should ask you to monitor your own blood glucose levels using a blood glucose meter. In some cases your doctor will also prescribe medication.
After your baby is born
After the baby is born, insulin requirements fall and the diabetes disappears, unless it was coincidental that either type 1 or type 2 diabetes developed during the pregnancy.
It is extremely important to be tested 6 to 8 weeks after the baby is born to check if the diabetes has disappeared. Women who have had gestational diabetes are 50 per cent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later in life. You should continue to be tested every 1 to 2 years.
The National Gestational Diabetes Register
The National Gestational Diabetes Register (external site) was established within the National Diabetes Services Scheme to help women who have had gestational diabetes to manage their health into the future.
Registration with the National Gestational Diabetes Register is free. Women who have been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, reside in Australia and hold or are eligible to hold an Australian Medicare Card are entitled to register.
Women diagnosed with gestational diabetes are eligible to register with the NDSS for the duration of their pregnancy.
More information is available from the National Diabetes Services Scheme (NDSS) (external site).
Where to get help
- See your doctor
- Visit a GP after hours
- Ring healthdirect on 1800 022 222
- Phone the Diabetes WA Advice Line on 1300 136 588
- Between 5 to 8 per cent of pregnant women will develop gestational diabetes.
- Gestational diabetes will not lead to your baby being born with the diabetes.
- Gestational diabetes can lead to high blood pressure during pregnancy.
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