Gestational diabetes is a form diabetes that is first recognized in pregnancy. Gestational diabetes occurs because the mother’s pancreas does not make enough extra insulin to control the blood sugar needed when hormones from the placenta block the normal action of insulin. These hormones rise most in the second part of pregnancy and so this is when gestational diabetes is typically found.
In gestational diabetes, the major concern is that the higher blood sugar levels cross the placenta into the baby, and the baby converts the sugar into fat. These babies may get too big, making for a more difficult delivery. Also, the baby may get used to higher sugars and so just after birth the baby’s blood sugar may drop and they can have low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). We have never seen a baby born with diabetes because the mom had gestational diabetes.
For the mother, gestational diabetes usually resolves once the baby is born. Because the mother’s pancreas is now known to need a little help, women who had gestational diabetes are at higher risk for the development of type 2 diabetes later in life, a risk that can be reduced by adopting healthy eating and physical activity habits.
Most cases of gestational diabetes respond very well to eating healthy food and activity. Walking after meals helps use up blood sugar and keeps it controlled. About one third of women may need insulin/blood sugar lowering medications even with healthy eating habits and exercising. Medications taken during pregnancy for GDM can nearly always be stopped once the baby is born.