Gestational Diabetes is a type of diabetes that affects around 18% of pregnant women in the UK. 

The levels of glucose in your blood are controlled by the hormone insulin. Glucose is needed by the body to provide energy.

During pregnancy, your body produces high levels of hormones to support the growth of your baby. Some of these hormones can interfere with the normal action of insulin. Usually, the body compensates by producing more insulin. However, some women do not produce enough extra insulin, or their bodies cannot use the insulin effectively (known as ‘insulin resistance’). This leads to high glucose levels in the blood, resulting in gestational diabetes.

Careful management of the condition significantly reduces the risk of complications, and most women will have a healthy pregnancy and baby. Gestational diabetes usually goes away once your baby is born.

Symptoms of Gestational Diabetes

There are often no symptoms, although some women may develop symptoms if their glucose levels become too high. These include:

  • Going to the toilet more than usual
  • Feeling more tired than usual
  • Being really thirsty
  • General itching or thrush
  • Having a dry mouth

How is Gestational Diabetes Diagnosed?

"I had no symptoms whatsoever, so it was a real surprise when it was diagnosed. I was offered a test due to a family history of diabetes and was so glad it was picked up early." - Rose

Gestational diabetes is usually diagnosed by a blood test between 24-28 weeks of pregnancy. If you've had gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy, you'll normally be tested earlier.

Not all women are offered the test as standard. Your midwife will ask about the risk factors associated with gestational diabetes and offer the test, if needed.

Increased glucose levels may be detected when your urine is tested during antenatal appointments.

Causes of Gestational Diabetes

Doctors and researchers don't fully understand why some women develop the condition and others don't. However, they've identified several risk factors:

  • Your body mass index (BMI) is above 30
  • You've had gestational diabetes before
  • You have polycystic ovary syndrome
  • You've had a large baby in a previous pregnancy (4.5kg/10lb or over)
  • You have a family history of diabetes (parent, sibling)
  • You've had weight-loss surgery
  • You are of South Asian, Black, African Caribbean, or Middle Eastern origin

Your midwife will arrange for you to have a blood test if any of these factors apply.

What Does it Mean for Me, My Baby, and My Pregnancy?

The more glucose there is in your blood, the more insulin your baby will produce. This extra insulin can cause your baby to grow larger and faster than usual, affecting your birth options. Your baby's weight will be carefully monitored using ultrasound scans, and you may be advised to have a planned Caesarean or early induction if your baby is large.

Having gestational diabetes can also increase the risk of stillbirth, although the risk is low. Proper diagnosis and management significantly reduce this risk. It's crucial to attend all antenatal appointments and report any concerns about your baby's movements to your maternity unit.

While gestational diabetes can change your pregnancy experience and may alter your birthing plan, it can be managed successfully. This management often includes more frequent monitoring, regular blood glucose testing at home and diet/lifestyle changes to keep you and your baby healthy.

Having gestational diabetes means you're at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future.

Treatment for Gestational Diabetes

After diagnosis, you'll have extra appointments with specialists who will support you. The primary treatment for gestational diabetes includes diet and exercise, both of which directly impact blood glucose levels. If diet and exercise aren't enough to maintain normal blood sugar levels, you may need medication and/or insulin.

Being diagnosed with gestational diabetes can be overwhelming, but remember that most women have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies. Don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor or midwife if you need to, they’re there to support you.

More Resources

Diabetes UK

NHS Website

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