How Can Gestational Diabetes Affect My Baby?

Posted On: January 5, 2021 By Jennifer Lam-Rachlin, MD

Gestational diabetes is one concern during pregnancy that can require the help of your maternal fetal medicine specialist – as well as an experienced Registered Dietitian. The good news is that gestational diabetes is manageable, and you can enjoy a healthy pregnancy and postpartum periodHere’s what to know about gestational diabetes and how it can affect you and your baby. 

What is Gestational Diabetes? 

Gestational diabetes means that you experience an onset of diabetes during pregnancy.  Similar to other types of diabetes, gestational diabetes affects how your cells use sugar (glucose), which can negatively affect your health and your baby’s. Gestational diabetes is fairly common during pregnancy and affects up to fifteen percent of all pregnancies in the U.S. each year.   Thankfully, gestational diabetes is commonly controlled by a healthy diet and exercise; however, gestational diabetes can be more severe for some women and require medication, such as insulin.  

What Causes Gestational Diabetes? 

We still have a lot to learn about the exact causes of gestational diabetes and its risk factors, but we do know that it is caused by the placenta affecting the way the body uses insulin because of hormonal changes. This can cause blood sugar levels to rise. Although some women who become pregnant lead healthy and active lifestyles, they can still experience gestational diabetes and its effects. 

How Can Gestational Diabetes Affect My Baby? 

Gestational diabetes often sets in during the later stages of pregnancy, unlike women who have diabetes before pregnancy. This means it does not cause the same kinds of birth defects as those in women who had diabetes before becoming pregnant. However, the biggest risk with gestational diabetes is high blood sugar levels in your baby, which means that its body will store the extra glucose as fat during development.  This can increase the risk that you baby can be large at birth which can increase the risk of birth injuries and/or Cesarean delivery.  Additionally, these babies are at higher risk of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) at birth which sometimes may require intravenous glucose solutions after delivery.   Babies of mothers who have gestational diabetes have a higher rate of developing obesity and type 2 diabetes later in life which may be correlated with poor glucose control during the pregnancy. 

What’s the Outlook for Gestational Diabetes? 

For most women, gestational diabetes only presents the need for some extra steps in their pregnancy care. Once you receive your diagnosis, it’s important to meet with a Registered Dietitian soon. First, you’ll start by discussing any previous knowledge you might have about gestational diabetes and whether you’ll need to discuss any new topics about it. Then, you’ll ask any questions and begin to create a picture of your regular diet. This can help you discuss how you can improve by taking steps like reducing processed carbs and eating more vegetables and high-quality proteins. Managing your diet and exercise routine is one of the best ways to reduce the negative effects of gestational diabetes, as well as managing sleep and stress in your daily life.  In some patients, diet and lifestyle modifications alone are not enough and may require medication such as insulin to help control their glucose values.  With these steps in mind, you can begin to try and find the methods that work best for you and your lifestyle.   For most patients, gestational diabetes resolves after delivery; however, they should have routine diabetes screening every 1-3 years with their primary care doctor.  

Schedule an Appointment 

It’s important to be proactive in managing gestational diabetes, and our team can help. To meet with our award-winning maternal fetal medicine specialists as well as our Registered Dietitian, we invite you to contact our New York City office by calling or filling out our online form. 

Carnegie Imaging for Women blogs are intended for educational purposes only and do not replace certified professional care. Medical conditions vary and change frequently. Please ask your doctor any questions you may have regarding your condition to receive a proper diagnosis or risk analysis. Thank you!

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