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What are some complications of gestational diabetes?

Unless your gestational diabetes is well controlled, you and your developing baby are likely to have high blood glucose (too much glucose in the blood). This can cause problems for both of you during the pregnancy, at the birth, and in the years to come.

Potential problems for your baby:
  • Your baby may be born prematurely (too soon). There is also a small chance that your baby will be stillborn (die before birth).
  • Your baby may grow unusually large before birth, which can make delivery difficult. Babies of mothers with gestational diabetes have higher rates of birth trauma than those whose mothers don't have the condition.
  • After birth, your baby may have trouble breathing. Your baby may also have jaundice and low blood glucose.
  • Your baby may develop diabetes later in life. Studies also show an increased risk of obesity in childhood and beyond.
Potential problems for you:
  • You have an increased chance of developing preeclampsia during pregnancy. Preeclampsia is a complex condition that causes high blood pressure and poor blood flow to your organs and your baby. If it's very severe, preeclampsia can be life-threatening for both mother and child.
  • You have a greater chance of needing a C-section delivery of your baby. This is linked to the greater chance that your baby will be unusually large.
  • You may develop type 2 diabetes later in life. Also, if you get pregnant again, you're more likely to have gestational diabetes then as well.
The main concern with gestational diabetes is that the baby may develop a fetal macrosomia, a condition in which it grows more than nine pounds, four ounces before birth, regardless of its gestational age. This occurs because the baby is getting large amounts of glucose from the mother, which triggers the baby's pancreas to produce more insulin. The extra glucose, then, is converted to fat.

In some cases, the baby becomes too large to be delivered through the birth canal, requiring a cesarean delivery.

Gestational diabetes also increases the risk of hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, in the baby right after delivery. This medical problem typically occurs if the mother's blood sugar levels have been consistently high, leading to high blood levels of insulin in the baby. After it's born, the baby continues to have a high insulin level but no longer has the high levels of glucose from the mother. So the newborn's blood sugar levels drop sharply and suddenly. Your baby's blood sugar levels will be checked in the newborn nursery, and if they're too low, the baby may receive oral or intravenous glucose.

Babies whose mothers have gestational diabetes or whose mothers had insulin-dependent diabetes before they became pregnant are also at higher risk for respiratory distress syndrome after birth, a condition that makes it hard for the baby to breathe.

Additionally, children whose mothers had gestational diabetes are at higher risk for getting diabetes as they get older and are more likely to be obese as children or adults, which can lead to other health problems.

Gestational diabetes can cause other complications in the pregnant woman and in the newborn.

The potential complications in the pregnant woman may include:

  • Pregnancy induced hypertension, preeclampsia or eclampsia
  • Infections
  • Premature labor
  • Development of type 2 diabetes in later life.
  • Difficult delivery or need for a cesarean birth due to large infant size.

The potential effects on the newborn may include

  • Stillbirth
  • Preterm birth
  • Respiratory distress syndrome
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Jaundice
  • Excessive birth weight resulting in difficult birth and birth injuries
Vandana  R. Sheth
Nutrition & Dietetics

Most women with well-controlled gestational diabetes have healthy babies.  Complications of gestational diabetes usually occur in cases where the blood sugars have been uncontrolled.  Complications to the baby might include excessive birth weight, preterm birth, respiratory distress syndrome, hypoglycemia, jaundice, increased future risk for developing obesity and type 2 diabetes.  In severe cases, baby can be still born. Complications to the mother can include high blood pressure, pre-eclampsia, greater chance of needing a delivery by c-section, increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Continue Learning about Gestational Diabetes

Gestational Diabetes

When you develop diabetes, or high blood sugar, during pregnancy, it is known as gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM). Some of the risk factors for developing GDM include being older than 25, a family history of diabetes, having al...

ready had a baby who weighed more than 9 pounds and being Hispanic or African-American. You may not have any symptoms, but if you do they might be blurred vision, fatigue, have frequent infections or increased thirst and urination. You may also have nausea and vomiting or unexplained weight loss. The goal of treatment is to keep your blood sugar at a healthy level and to make sure your fetus is healthy. See you doctor for regular prenatal visits during your pregnancy.
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.