Community Health & Wellness Institute
gestational diabetes

Gestational diabetes

Full term diabetes care for expectant moms

Gestational diabetes is diagnosed during pregnancy (gestation). Like other types of diabetes, gestational diabetes affects how your cells use sugar (glucose) and causes high blood sugar, which can endanger both your health and your baby’s health. Unlike other types of diabetes, your blood sugar typically returns to normal after you give birth.

At Novant Health, our providers help expectant moms control their gestational diabetes by educating them on the importance of eating healthy foods, exercising and, if necessary, taking medication. To learn more about risk factors, complications and treatments, contact a Novant Health diabetes location near you.

Risk factors and causes

For most women, gestational diabetes doesn't cause noticeable signs or symptoms. Rarely, gestational diabetes may cause excessive thirst or increased urination, that’s why it’s important to have regular checkups and screenings to monitor your blood sugar levels during your pregnancy. Gestational diabetes usually develops during the last half of pregnancy – but sometimes as early as the 20th week. As your baby grows, the placenta produces more insulin-blocking hormones. In gestational diabetes, the placental hormones provoke a rise in blood sugar to a level that can affect the growth and welfare of your baby.

Any woman can develop gestational diabetes, but some women have additional risk factors including:

    • Being over the age of 25
    • Having a family history of diabetes
    • Being overweight before pregnancy
    • Having gestational diabetes in a prior pregnancy
    • Being of African-American, Asian, Hispanic, or Native American descent
    • Having a history of seizures or epilepsy

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Most women who have gestational diabetes deliver healthy babies. However, gestational diabetes that isn’t carefully managed can lead to uncontrolled blood sugar levels and cause problems for you and your baby, including an increased likelihood of needing delivery by cesarean section (C-section).

Complications that may affect your baby

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

    • Excessive birth weight, which can cause you to have a very large baby. Larger babies are more likely to become wedged in the birth canal, sustain birth injuries or require a C-section birth
    • Early (preterm) birth and respiratory distress syndrome. If your blood sugar becomes too high, you risk early
    • Babies born early may experience respiratory distress syndrome – a condition that makes breathing difficult
    • Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) shortly after birth, which could provoke seizures
    • Jaundice
    • Type 2 diabetes later in life

    Untreated gestational diabetes could result in a baby's death either before or shortly after birth.

    Complications that may affect you

    Gestational diabetes may also increase the mother's risk of:

Testing and treatments

Routine screening is necessary to ensure a safe and healthy pregnancy. Screening for gestational diabetes typically occurs during weeks 24 and 28 of your pregnancy. If you have additional risk factors you may be screened much earlier.

To test for gestational diabetes, you will drink a sugary drink that raises your blood sugar levels. An hour later, you’ll take a blood test to measure your blood sugar level. If you,r level is higher than normal, it only means you have a higher risk of gestational diabetes and your doctor will schedule another screening. If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes your doctor will likely recommend frequent checkups, especially during your last three months of pregnancy. During these exams, your doctor will monitor your blood sugar.

To treat gestational diabetes, your doctor may ask you to:

    • Check your blood sugar levels four or more times a day
    • Do urine tests that check for ketones, which mean that your diabetes is not under control
    • Eat a healthy diet that’s in line with your doctor’s recommendations
    • Make exercise a habit

Your doctor will track how much weight you gain and let you know if you need to take insulin or other medicine for your gestational diabetes. To ensure that your blood sugar level has returned to normal after your baby is born, your healthcare team will check your blood sugar right after delivery and again in six weeks. To learn more about how to manage your gestational diabetes, contact a Novant Health provider.