Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) is a condition that occurs in pregnant women and is characterized by blood sugar (glucose) that is too high (hyperglycemia) during pregnancy.
Are you at risk for GDM?
Although any pregnant woman can develop GDM, the following risk factors are linked to GDM:
- family history of diabetes
- Hispanic/Latino American, African American, and American Indian
- diagnosed with GDM during a previous pregnancy
- delivered a baby weighing >9 lb
How is GDM diagnosed?
Only a blood test can determine if you have GDM. If you have never had GDM before, you will likely be tested between the 24th and 28th weeks of pregnancy (oral glucose tolerance test [OGTT]). If you have had GDM during an earlier pregnancy, you should be tested for it when you see your healthcare provider for the first time about your new pregnancy.1
How GDM can affect you—and your baby
If you have GDM, you have too much sugar in your blood. Blood sugar levels that are too high are unhealthy for both you and your baby.
Risks to your baby include:
- injury during delivery due to a larger birth size
- blood sugar level that is too low (hypoglycemia) at birth due to increased insulin levels
- jaundice, a yellowing of the skin due to an increased level of bilirubin
- breathing problems due to early birth and underdeveloped lungs
Your risks include:
- difficult labor, due to delivering a larger baby, and may require a cesarean delivery
- increased risk of urinary tract infections and vaginal yeast infections
- preeclampsia, a serious complication causing high blood pressure and high amounts of protein in the urine
- continuing to have diabetes after the baby is born
- developing type 2 diabetes later in life
How is gestational diabetes treated?
Once GDM is diagnosed, it needs to be treated immediately. The goal of GDM treatment is to keep your blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible so you can have a healthy pregnancy and deliver a healthy baby. You will need to carefully follow the specific treatment plan your healthcare team designs for you.
There are several ways that you can help keep your blood sugar levels in a healthy range:
- Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet, as directed by your healthcare team.
- Test your blood sugar as directed by your healthcare team (may include testing 4 to 5 times each day).
- Get a moderate amount of safe exercise, such as walking, swimming, and prenatal stretching exercises as directed by your healthcare team.
- Keep records of your blood sugar levels, ketone levels, and changes in your diet or exercise plans.
If you are unable to manage your high blood sugar with diet and exercise as recommended by your healthcare team, you may need to take insulin injections.
Your future health
In over 90% of women with GDM, diabetes goes away after delivery. However, women who have had GDM have a 35%–60% chance of developing type 2 diabetes in 10–20 years.2 That is why it is very important that you stay physically active, maintain a healthy weight, be tested for diabetes regularly as directed by your healthcare provider, and know the symptoms of type 2 diabetes.