Gestational Diabetes

Pregnant women with high blood sugar levels during pregnancy are identified as having gestational diabetes. Roughly 4% of all pregnant women have this condition.

According to the American Diabetes Association, “We don't know what causes gestational diabetes, but we have some clues. The placenta supports the baby as it grows. Hormones from the placenta help the baby develop. But these hormones also block the action of the mother's insulin in her body. This insulin resistance makes it hard for the mother's body to properly use insulin.”

Gestational diabetes affects women in late pregnancy and does not cause birth defects sometimes seen in newborns whose mothers had diabetes before pregnancy. Untreated or poorly controlled gestational diabetes can, however, hurt a developing fetus. Extra blood glucose can pass through the placenta and produce high blood glucose levels in a developing fetus. This causes the developing pancreas to make extra insulin than is needed for growth and the resulting extra energy is stored as fat.

This can lead to macrosomia, or a "fat" baby. Babies with macrosomia face health problems of their own, including damage to their shoulders during birth. Because of the extra insulin made by the baby's pancreas, newborns may have very low blood glucose levels at birth and are also at higher risk for breathing problems. Babies with excess insulin become children who are at risk for obesity and adults who are at risk for Type 2 diabetes.

Treating Gestational Diabetes
Treatment for gestational diabetes must start immediately upon detection. Treatment always includes special meal plans and scheduled physical activity. It may also include daily blood glucose testing and insulin injections. A qualified physician, nurse educator, and other members of an active health care team must follow women with gestational diabetes closely.

Gestational diabetes usually goes away after pregnancy. However, women who have had gestational diabetes are more likely to develop the condition again in future pregnancies. In some women, pregnancy uncovers Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, requiring that treatment continue following childbirth. Also, many women with gestational diabetes are at high risk of developing Type 2 diabetes years later. Gestational diabetes and Type 2 diabetes both involve insulin resistance. Lifestyle changes – good nutrition, exercise and weight loss - may help prevent diabetes after gestational diabetes.


Newton-Wellesley Hospital has written a variety of different health articles about diabetes and various other subjects. These materials are intended to provide general educational information and to help users arrange more easily for health care services. 

These articles are not an attempt to practice medicine or provide specific medical advice and should not be used to make a diagnosis or to replace or overrule a qualified health care provider's judgment. Nor should users rely upon this information if they need emergency medical treatment. We strongly encourage users to consult with a qualified health care professional for answers to personal questions.


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