Gestational Diabetes: What It Is and How It's Treated

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Around the 24th week of pregnancy, some women develop gestational diabetes a temporary condition involving high blood glucose (sugar) levels that can cause health problems for both the expectant mom and her developing baby.

Diabetes is a disease caused by the body's difficulty making or properly using insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas to help move glucose from the food we eat into our cells, which need it for energy.

During pregnancy, your body has to produce about 3 times the usual amount of insulin. With gestational diabetes, researchers believe hormones from the placenta supporting your developing baby block the action of insulin in your own body, causing insulin resistance. Excess glucose builds up in your blood and goes through the placenta, creating high blood glucose levels for the fetus, as well.

With more glucose than needed, the fetus stores this extra energy as fat, leading to a condition called macrosomia (or fat baby). This poses risks to the mother and her developing baby.

  • Risks to the mother: A large fetus (9 pounds of more) can lead to labor difficulties, cesarean delivery, heavy bleeding after delivery and vaginal area tears during vaginal birth.

  • Risks to the baby: Babies with macrosomia may suffer damage to their shoulders during birth, have very low blood glucose levels at birth and have a higher risk for breathing problems. These babies are also at higher risk for obesity in childhood and type 2 diabetes as adults.


Your healthcare provider will test for gestational diabetes around weeks 24-28 of pregnancy with a glucose screening. You'll be asked to drink a concentrated sugar solution and after a short period, a blood sample will be drawn and tested to analyze how well your body reacts to sugar. If the test results are high, a three-hour glucose test is done to make the diagnosis.

Caught early, gestational diabetes can usually be managed through diet and exercise.

GD symptoms to watch for include:

  • Sugar in your urine (revealed in a test done in your doctors office)
  • Persistent thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Frequent skin, vaginal and bladder infections
  • Blurred vision


If you develop gestational diabetes, the treatment goal will be to keep your blood glucose at the same level as that in a normal pregnancy. Women able to do this usually give birth to healthy babies with no complications.

This can be accomplished with a healthy, balanced diet that limits carbohydrates (since these turn into blood glucose during digestion) and regular physical activity. Treatment may also include daily blood glucose testing and insulin injections, if necessary.

Monitor the amount of carbohydrates in your diet, since these turn into blood glucose and your goal will be to keep your blood glucose at more normal levels.

Check out this GD diet from the National Library of Medicine for reference, and be sure to follow your healthcare providers dietary instructions. Ask him or her about safe, regular exercise, too. If allowed, a brisk walk for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week is a good option.

Get a complete guide to gestational diabetes from the national Centers for Disease Control.

This message is not intended to provide individual medical advice. Always seek the advice of a physician or qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have about your health or medical condition, your breastfeeding issues and your infant's health. Never disregard, avoid or delay contacting a doctor or other qualified professional because of something you have read in our emails, webpages or other electronic communications.

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