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Causes of gestational diabetes

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, which is when your body’s cells don’t respond properly to the insulin that your body makes, 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 blood sugar levels rise. This then leads to gestational diabetes. 

Can you get gestational diabetes from eating too much sugar? 

Gestational diabetes is not directly caused by consuming too much sugar, but your risk is increased if you are living with overweight or obesity. This applies to type 2 diabetes as well.

As sugary foods and drinks usually contain a lot of calories, this means you could gain weight if you regularly take in more calories than your body needs, which increases your risk of type 2 or gestational diabetes. 

Read more about whether eating too much sugar causes diabetes

Do any foods cause gestational diabetes? 

There is no known link between particular foods and an increased risk of gestational diabetes. But certain foods and drinks have been associated with an increased or decreased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Having a healthy diet and being more active can help reduce the risk of gestational diabetes.  

Read our 10 tips for healthy eating.  

What puts you at risk of gestational diabetes? 

Some factors that can increase your risk of gestational diabetes include: 

  • Living with overweight or obesity 
  • Having had it before in a previous pregnancy  
  • Having had a very large baby in a previous pregnancy – 4.5kg/10lb or more 
  • Having a family history of diabetes – this means at least one parent or sibling 
  • Having a South Asian, Black or African Caribbean or Middle Eastern background. 
  • Increasing age - the NHS recommends gestational diabetes screening if you are pregnant and over 40 years old.  

If any of these apply to you, you should be offered screening for gestational diabetes during your pregnancy. You can read more about how gestational diabetes is diagnosed.  

How can I prevent gestational diabetes? 

Some people can’t prevent gestational diabetes, but there are some things you can do to reduce your risk. This includes getting support to manage your weight, eat healthily and keep active before pregnancy. 

We have a separate article with more information on reducing your risks of gestational diabetes.  

How many women develop it during pregnancy? 

Gestational diabetes is less common than type 1 or type 2 diabetes, but prevalence has been increasing. It affects at least 4–5 in 100 women during pregnancy, or 1 in 20 pregnancies in the UK. The important thing is to remember that with the right support you can reduce your risk, and if diagnosed there is specialist care available from your healthcare team.    

Next Review Date
Content last reviewed
30 March 2023
Next review due
30 March 2026
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