Gestational Diabetes- Causes, Symptoms, Risks and Complications

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Written by Editorial Team

Editorial Team

Gestational Diabetes- Causes, Symptoms, Risks and Complications

Gestational diabetes is said to occur when a woman has too much glucose in the blood at the time of pregnancy. According to a recent study, about 15% of all pregnant women can develop gestational diabetes (1a). If not detected on time gestational diabetes can result in pregnancy complications. This article deals with causes, symptoms, risks, and preventive measures for Gestational diabetes.

Gestational diabetes may sound common, but has its share of maternal and fetal health complications. However, a prompt diagnosis and treatment can help you sail through a smooth pregnancy. Read to know more about the causes, symptoms, and complications of gestational diabetes. This article also gives you a brief on how to keep your blood sugar levels under control during pregnancy. 

In This Article

What Causes Gestational Diabetes?

During pregnancy, increased levels of certain hormones made in the placenta (the organ that connects the baby by the umbilical cord to the uterus) help shift nutrients from the mother to the developing fetus. Then there are other hormones produced by the placenta that keep the mother’s sugar levels to the desired level, working by resisting the actions of insulin. Pregnancy causes the body to make extra insulin, but the placental hormones overrule the production of insulin. If the body is unable to meet this additional requirement the blood sugar rises and gestational diabetes can be developed (1b).

A mother’s pancreas can usually make three times the normal amount of insulin to overcome the effect of pregnancy hormones. However, if the body cannot produce enough insulin, the occurrence of gestational diabetes will take place because of rising blood sugar levels. After the delivery, you will probably not have diabetes but will be at risk of getting it again during a further pregnancy or developing diabetes later in life.

What Are the Symptoms of Gestational Diabetes?

There are no visible symptoms of gestational diabetes, however, one may feel very thirsty, may have problems with frequent urination, mouth going dry, tiredness, and blurred vision. Snoring can also connect to this so let your doctor know if you are snoring more than usual. Gestational diabetes generally begins between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy and this is the same when the glucose screening test is done (2a).

However, if there is sugar in your urine, or you are at a higher risk of diabetes, you will probably be screened earlier. After the screening, if it is positive, a follow-up test (a glucose tolerance test, or GTT)is also carried out to confirm gestational diabetes. 

How is Gestational Diabetes Diagnosed?

How Is Gestational Diabetes Diagnosed_

Typically, pregnant women who have gestational diabetes may not show any indicative symptoms. The doctor may perform an Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT). Here the expectant woman will have to drink only water the previous night. And in the next morning before the test also she can drink a glass of water. After this, the lab will perform the blood sample analysis to find the sugar level (2b).

Then the expecting mother drinks a glass of sugar water or juice. Again the lab performs blood sample analysis to know the body’s reaction to the sugar. If the risk of gestational diabetes is relatively low but still needs to be checked, another test is conducted.

This test is called the fasting plasma glucose test. Here the mother has to give her blood samples in the morning before breakfast. She also has to fast for 10-12 hours before giving a blood sample.

[Read : Glucose Screening Test And Glucose Tolerance Test During Pregnancy]

Am I At Risk of Developing Gestational Diabetes?

Here are a few factors that may put you at risk of developing gestational diabetes (3a)

  • You are obese or overweight – BMI > 30.
  • There is sugar in your urine
  • There is a history of diabetes in your family
  • Impaired glucose tolerance or impaired fasting glucose
  • Have given birth to a big baby(ies) previously
  • A previous incident of having a stillborn baby due to unexplained reasons
  • Have had gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy
  • You are above the age of 35 years
  • A condition called Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome
  • There is a history of heart disease
  • You have a condition of high blood pressure

The expectant mothers need to take extra care because having high sugar in the blood can create problems for both the mother and child. But this type of diabetes is not the same as type 1 and type 2 diabetes, it does not last for a lifetime and tends to go away once the baby is born.

Complications With Gestational Diabetes

Complications With Gestational Diabetes

Once you know you have gestational diabetes and if kept under control, then there is no need to be concerned about it there will be no problem in pregnancy and the baby will also be fine. Most often, diet changes and physical activity along with medications are enough to keep gestational diabetes in check.

But if overlook this issue,  the baby receives too much blood sugar and grows larger than normal. This creates problems in delivery and even after birth. Too much sugar in the baby’s blood will make him put on extra weight, especially in the upper body. Thus, passing through the birth canal becomes difficult. Macrosomia is the condition when the baby becomes too big so delivery through the birth canal becomes difficult.

It also increases the chances of episiotomy or a C-section, and there is also a risk of the baby getting a fractured nerve or bone Such babies can have problems breathing, or get jaundice, and in the future, the child will be at a higher risk for type 2 diabetes or premature labor (birth before 37 weeks). Mothers may develop pre-eclampsia and an increased risk of developing gestational diabetes in later pregnancies (3b).

How Can I Keep My Blood Sugar Levels in Control?

Pregnancy can potentially bring in some complications during the period of gestation, which normally disappear after the delivery. However, it is important to concentrate on your diet and stick to an exercise routine which together can help you stay away from gestational diabetes. Sticking to a balanced nutrition from the beginning of the pregnancy not only reduces the risks of getting diagnosed with gestational diabetes but also helps you keep your blood sugar levels in check (4)

Here are a few tips that can help you control gestational diabetes. 

  • Include low Glycemic Index (GI) carbohydrates, which slowly release energy, e.g. cereals, whole-meal bread, and pasta.
  • Include oily fish and lean meat in the diet, such as mackerel, salmon, and sardines.
  • Eat at least five fruits and vegetables daily.
  • Minimize the amount of sugar, fatty food, and salt in food. Replace fizzy drinks with fresh fruit juices.
  • Use unsaturated fats or oil e.g. rapeseed oil and olive oil instead of butter.

Keep yourself active during pregnancy, stick to a healthy diet, keep your weight in control and exercise will help to reduce the risk of developing gestational diabetes.

[Read : Top 5 Ways To Control Diabetes During Pregnancy]

Will I Have Diabetes in the Future?

Gestational diabetes does put you at a higher risk of developing diabetes in later life. 50% of women who had gestational diabetes do develop diabetes post later in life. You are at a higher risk if you are obese. The key to minimizing the risk of developing diabetes in the future lies in making healthy lifestyle choices like healthy eating, active physical life, and keeping your weight in check.

When to Consult a Doctor?

When you are planning for a pregnancy, or during your early pregnancy, it is important to let your doctor know about your medical history. Let your doctor know if you are pregnant and have these conditions

  • Over 30 years of age
  • You have PCOS
  • You are diabetic
  • Hypertensive
  • Obese or Overweight


1. Am I At the Risk of Developing Gestational Diabetes?

Some preexisting medical conditions and maternal age can contribute to the chances of developing gestational diabetes during pregnancy. However, it is important to get the screening done according to your doctor’s advice even if you are not likely at risk of developing it. 

2. Can Gestational Diabetes Cause Miscarriage?

Untreated gestational diabetes can lead to preterm births, babies born with low birth weight, and in extreme cases stillbirths. Hence it is important to get it screened and managed with proper dietary and lifestyle changes. Your doctor may also prescribe medications to manage extreme insulin resistance during pregnancy. 


  1. Gestational Diabetes Mellitus—Recent Literature Review – []
  2. Screening and Diagnosis of Gestational Diabetes Mellitus, Where Do We Stand – []
  3. Gestational Diabetes – []
  4. Diet and Healthy Lifestyle in the Management of Gestational Diabetes Mellitus – []

Read Also: Impact of Gestational Diabetes on the Baby by Dr Lathiesh Kumar Kambham

Editorial Team,

With a rich experience in pregnancy and parenting, our team of experts create insightful, well-curated, and easy-to-read content for our to-be-parents and parents at all stages of parenting.Read more.

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