Gestational diabetes is diabetes that develops during pregnancy. It’s usually diagnosed from a blood test 24 to 28 weeks into pregnancy.
In the UK, approximately 16 out of every 100 women will develop gestational diabetes.
Women with gestational diabetes don’t have diabetes before their pregnancy – and it usually goes away after giving birth.
But, in some women, diabetes may be diagnosed in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy –which is called the first trimester. If this is the case, they probably had diabetes before they got pregnant – and it 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.
Having gestational diabetes increases your risk of developing it again in future pregnancies. It also increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life, but there are lots of thing you can do to reduce your future risk.
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, 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 an OGTT as soon as possible after your booking appointment, and another OGTT between 24-28 weeks if the first test result is normal.
Speak to your midwife or doctor if you're worried about any of the symptoms you're experiencing.
Coping with pregnancy and gestational diabetes
Some women can feel vulnerable and anxious when they’re pregnant. And finding out you have gestational diabetes might make these feelings worse.
“Pregnancy is already a time where emotions are running high, but getting a surprise diagnosis in the third trimester is particularly tough. After the initial feelings started to calm down a little, I set about trying to get as much information as I could – thinking of ways to help myself and possible scenarios made me feel less helpless.”
– Ana, read her story
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