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Complications of gestational diabetes

If left untreated, high blood sugar levels can cause serious health problems for you and your baby. These are called the complications of gestational diabetes. But there’s lots you can do to reduce your risk.  

What happens after diagnosis? 

Being diagnosed with gestational diabetes can be a scary and confusing time. But with good management of your blood sugar levels, you’re more likely to enjoy a healthy pregnancy and give birth to a healthy baby. 
After you’re diagnosed, your care team should tell your GP and you should be referred to a joint diabetes and antenatal clinic within one week. Your care team will work with you on targets for your blood sugar levels. To help you keep on top of your levels, download our handy resource – My Blood Sugar Targets (PDF, 104KB)
Monitoring your blood sugar levels and meeting your targets will reduce your risk of complications and increase your chances of having a healthy pregnancy and baby. However, if your gestational diabetes isn’t managed well, it can put you at an increased risk of developing complications. 

Could gestational diabetes affect my baby? 

Gestational diabetes could cause your baby to grow larger than normal, which can lead to a more painful or difficult birth and possible distress for baby. It can also cause neonatal hypoglycaemia, which is when your baby has low blood sugar after birth.   

Most women with gestational diabetes will go on to have a healthy baby and a normal pregnancy. But if left untreated, gestational diabetes can cause serious health problems for you and your baby.  

As well as the above, continuous high blood sugar levels can also lead to: 

  • induced labour 
  • caesarean section 
  • your baby having a higher risk of overweight or obesity and developing type 2 diabetes in later life. As your child grows, managing their weight, eating healthily and being physically active will reduce this risk. 
  • Your baby having yellowing skin and eyes (jaundice) after birth 

There is also a small risk of your baby dying at around the time of the birth. But remember, working with your health care team to keep your blood sugar levels within your target range will lower the chance of these problems and increase your chances of a healthy pregnancy and baby. 

How do I prevent complications? 

Your care team should give you lots of information and support about how to manage gestational diabetes and stay healthy during pregnancy.  

This should include how to check your blood sugar levels and what your target levels are, advice about making healthier food choices, the importance of daily physical activity and taking your medication, including insulin, if you need it. 

“My biggest worry was my unborn little boy, but the consultant was very reassuring, and said there was no reason I couldn’t have a full-term natural birth, as my sugar levels were well managed, and the baby was growing normally.” 
Vicky, a journalist from London 

If you haven’t been given any of this information, make sure to ask your joint antenatal and diabetes team for it. 

What happens if a pregnant woman has gestational diabetes? 

Gestational diabetes can affect how well your placenta works. If your placenta isn’t working as well as it should, it can make your baby unwell and affect their movements. If you notice that your baby’s movements have slowed, stopped or are different to normal, you should contact your midwife or maternity unit immediately. There are staff on the hospital maternity unit 24 hours a day, seven days a week who can check your baby is OK. 

“During my pregnancy, I had lots of growth scans and other checks which all turned out to be fine and this really helped to reassure me.” 
Reena, read her story

Will my child get diabetes if I had gestational diabetes? 

Your child won’t automatically develop diabetes because you had gestational diabetes, but there’s some research to suggest that children whose mothers had gestational diabetes are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes or obesity later in life.  

To help reduce your child’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes or obesity, you can encourage them to exercise regularly, eat a healthy diet and maintain a healthy weight.  

How early do you deliver with gestational diabetes? 

You'll discuss the best time to give birth with your health care team, and you might give birth earlier than women who don’t have gestational diabetes. Your diabetes antenatal care team will work to help you have a natural birth close to your due date.  

Most women with well-managed diabetes will carry their baby to term, but if you have complications such as high blood pressure or a larger-than-average baby, you might need to have an earlier delivery.  

Getting support 

There’s lots of support available if you’ve been diagnosed with gestational diabetes and are worried about the risks. You can read about what care you can expect, and can contact our Helpline

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