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What are risk factors for gestational diabetes?

You are at greater risk for developing gestational diabetes if you are obese (have a body mass index greater than 30); have a family history of diabetes or have previously given birth to a very large infant or have had a stillbirth or a child with certain birth defects. One study showed a strong relationship between a mother's birth weight and her risk of getting gestational diabetes during her first pregnancy -- women with low or high birth weights had an increased risk.

You also have a greater risk of developing the condition if you're over 25, Hispanic, African American, Native American, South or East Asian, Pacific Islander or indigenous Australian.

Risk factors for developing gestational diabetes mellitus include:

  • Previous history of gestational diabetes mellitus
  • Previous macrosomic infant (>4000 grams or 9 pounds)
  • Previous pregnancy resulting in birth of an infant with congenital anomalies, especially cardiac, skeletal or central nervous system abnormalities.
  • Presence of polyhydramnios in present or previous pregnancies
  • History of recurrent moniliasis infections
  • History of recurrent spontaneous abortions
  • Maternal obesity
  • Excessive weight gain during pregnancy
  • Maternal age greater than 35 years
  • Family history of diabetes
The following contribute to a woman's risk for gestational diabetes:
  • Genes and Family History - Family history plays a role in gestational diabetes: women with a parent or sibling with diabetes are more likely to have gestational diabetes. Scientists suspect that gestational diabetes is more like type 2 than type 1 diabetes. For this reason, they think that similar genes are involved in both gestational and type 2 diabetes. However, there have been very few studies on the genes specifically involved in gestational diabetes, and there is no genetic test to detect gestational diabetes.
  • Race and Ethnicity - Women who are Hispanic, American Indian, Asian, or African American are more likely to have gestational diabetes than non-Hispanic white women.
  • Obesity and Age - Just like type 2 diabetes, obesity and age are risk factors for developing gestational diabetes. Women who are 25 years old or older or overweight are more likely to have it. Obesity contributes to insulin resistance and negatively affects the body’s ability to use insulin properly.
During pregnancy, your body produces lots of hormones in an organ called the placenta. The placenta is also the organ that nourishes the growing baby. These extra hormones are important for the baby’s growth. However, some of these hormones also block insulin’s action in the mother’s body, causing resistance to insulin. All pregnant women -- with or without gestational diabetes -- have some degree of insulin resistance. Pregnant women already experience some insulin resistance, so any added resistance through excess weight can put you at higher risk for diabetes.
Vandana  R. Sheth
Nutrition & Dietetics
Anyone with a family history of diabetes, history of previous pregnancy with gestational diabetes, of African-American, Hispanic, Native American and Asian ethnicity, overweight (BMI of 30 or higher), and over the age of 25 is at increased risk for gestational diabetes.
Risk factors for gestational diabetes include a family history of diabetes, being significantly overweight, being black, Hispanic, American Indian or Asian and being over age 25. Most pregnant women are routinely tested for gestational diabetes at about 24 to 28 weeks. The risk for developing diabetes later in life is higher among women who have had gestational diabetes.
Any woman might develop gestational diabetes during her pregnancy. However, if you answer "yes" to any of these questions, you may be at increased risk:
  • Are you overweight?
  • Do you have a parent, brother, or sister with diabetes?
  • Are you a member of an ethnic group with an increased risk for gestational diabetes (for example, Hispanic, Native American, African American, Asian, or Pacific Islander)?
  • Are you older than 25?
  • Have you ever been told you have prediabetes or higher-than-normal blood glucose levels?
  • Did you have gestational diabetes when you were pregnant before, or have you given birth to a baby larger than 9 pounds?
Talk to your doctor or midwife about any risk factors you have.
There are no specific reasons why some women develop gestational diabetes and others don't. However, the risk of gestational diabetes increases with age. You risk is also higher if you are overweight or if an immediate family member has been diagnosed with diabetes. Gestational diabetes is more common among African Americans, Hispanics, American Indians, and Asian Americans.

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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.