Gestational diabetes is diabetes that can develop during pregnancy. It affects women who haven't had diabetes before. It means you have high blood sugar and need to take extra care of yourself and your bump. This will include eating well and keeping active.
It usually goes away again after giving birth. It is usually diagnosed from a blood test 24 to 28 weeks into pregnancy.
Watch Rei's experience of gestational diabetes.
If you’ve found out you have gestational diabetes, you’re not alone. You’ll get lots of extra care and support from your care team at every stage. And we’re here to support you and your loved ones too. Speak to our helpline for support, advice or just a chat on 0345 123 2399 or use the live chat.
Your care team will give you lots of support with your blood sugar levels and offer treatment, if they think it’s needed.
You usually give birth in hospital and in some cases can give birth naturally. And you will be able to breastfeed if you want to.
Some women may have undiagnosed diabetes when they become pregnant. This may be picked up in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. This isn’t gestational diabetes and won’t go away after giving birth.
What causes gestational diabetes?
Lots of changes happen to your body during pregnancy.
Along with the physical signs, the hormones you produce can make it hard for your body to use insulin properly. This puts you at an increased risk of insulin resistance, and some women can’t produce enough insulin to overcome it.
This makes it difficult to use glucose (sugar) properly for energy, so it stays in your blood and the sugar levels rise. This then leads to gestational diabetes.
Who's at risk of gestational diabetes?
At your first antenatal appointment – also known as your booking appointment – a healthcare professional should check if you’re at risk of gestational diabetes.
They should offer you a test for gestational diabetes if you have any of these risk factors:
- are overweight or obese
- have had it before
- have had a very large baby in a previous pregnancy – 4.5kg/10lb or more
- have a family history of diabetes – parent or sibling
- have a South Asian, Black or African Caribbean or Middle Eastern background.
Can you prevent gestational diabetes?
In the UK, approximately 16 out of every 100 pregnant women will develop gestational diabetes. Some women have a higher risk of developing it.
You can’t prevent it but there are some things you can do to reduce your risk. This includes managing your weight, eating healthily and keeping active before pregnancy.
Signs of gestational diabetes
You may have been shocked to find out that you have gestational diabetes – many women have no noticeable symptoms.
As some of the signs of diabetes are like symptoms experienced in pregnancy anyway - like feeling more tired or going to the toilet more - most cases are diagnosed during screening for gestational diabetes. This is called an Oral Glucose Tolerance Test, also known as an OGTT.
The OGTT is done when you’re between 24-28 weeks pregnant. If you’ve had gestational diabetes before, you’ll be offered the OGTT or self monitoring of your blood sugar levels at home early in your pregnancy. You’ll be shown how to do this and given a blood monitoring kit.
Gestational diabetes and wellbeing
Some women can feel vulnerable and anxious when they’re pregnant. And finding out you have gestational diabetes might make these feelings worse.
"There’s a lot of shame and misconceptions attached to being a diabetic. I was really upset and in denial for a while. I was worried about the baby. I was also worried if I would be diabetic in future. I was encouraged by my diabetes team to stay active. I made time to do it for myself, for my mental sanity at this difficult time." Rei
If you’re feeling anxious, talk to your care team and ask for support. This support might come from healthcare professionals, voluntary organisations or other services. You can find out more on the NHS website.
Pregnancy can also cause depression in some women. Symptoms may include not wanting to do anything or see anyone, feeling down for long periods of time, not sleeping well or sleeping too much, overeating or not eating enough and feeling bad about yourself.
During pregnancy, your midwife and care team should ask if you’ve ever had problems with your mental health and whether you’re having any now. Don’t be afraid to be open and ask for support. It’s a hard thing to do, but asking for help and talking about how you’re feeling can be really helpful.
“I’d really recommend newly diagnosed mums speak to other mums with, or who’ve had, gestational diabetes, if they can. The moral support really helps.”
– Vicky, a journalist from London
Gestational diabetes and type 2 diabetes link
Having gestational diabetes increases your risk of developing it again in future pregnancies. It also increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes after giving birth. And it also increase the risk of your child becoming overweight and going on to develop type 2 diabetes as an adult. But there are lots of things you can do to reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes including breastfeeding your baby.