How does gestational diabetes affect my baby?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

Uncontrolled gestations diabetes can impact fetal well-being. 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
Diana Meeks
Diana Meeks on behalf of Sigma Nursing
Family Practitioner

Untreated or uncontrolled gestational diabetes can mean problems for your baby, such as:

  • Being born very large and with extra fat; this can make delivery difficult and more dangerous for your baby.
  • Low blood glucose right after birth.
  • Breathing problems.

If you have gestational diabetes, your health care team may recommend some extra tests to check on your baby. For example, the team may:

  • Perform an ultrasound exam to see how your baby is growing.
  • Count the kicks to check your baby's activity (the time between the baby's movements).
  • Special stress tests.

This answer is based on source information from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Most women with gestational diabetes who manage their glucose levels have healthy babies. However, if you do not actively manage your diabetes during pregnancy, there are significant risks to you and the baby.
Babies born to women with gestational diabetes have a higher risk of jaundice and low blood glucose when they are born. In addition, they are at risk for being born larger than normal. This is called macrosomia. During the last half of pregnancy, the baby grows rapidly. A mother’s high blood glucose during the latter half of pregnancy can lead to a larger-than-normal baby. In some cases, the baby can become too large to be delivered vaginally.

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 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 birth, 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 affect your baby by contributing to fetal macrosomia. This is a large baby weighing 8 lbs 13 oz or greater. The first line of defense against gestational diabetes is glycemic control during your entire pregnancy as well as during labor. Carbohydrate counting becomes very important during gestational diabetes as glycemic control is markedly harder during pregnancy due to growth hormones and increased insulin sensitivity during pregnancy. There are tighter controls for women with gestational diabetes. For instance fasting blood glucose should be 95 mg/dL or lower and one hour post meal checks should be 140 mg/dL or less. Working with a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator becomes increasingly important as they can help you meal plan and prep for any future glycemic control issues.

Gestational diabetes can raise your baby's risks of diabetes later in her life. In this video, Ronald Tamler, MD, clinical director of The Mount Sinai Diabetes Center, discusses other complications.

If you have gestational diabetes (GDM) during your pregnancy, it puts the fetus at risk for a variety of conditions, including excessive weight (macrosomia or large for gestational age), hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), hyperbilirubinemia (high bilirubin, which can lead to brain damage if not controlled), the need for an operative delivery or primary Caesarean section and shoulder dystocia (when the fetus's shoulder is trapped in the pelvis at the time of delivery—a very serious complication that can result in lifelong injury).

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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.