What is gestational diabetes?

Somali: Sonkorowga uurka

You've probably heard of diabetes, and think of it as a lifelong disease. There are several types of diabetes, and most types do last a lifetime.

However, gestational diabetes:

  • occurs only during pregnancy
  • usually goes away after your baby is born
  • often does not have symptoms that show

Diabetes prevents your body from using food properly. During digestion, most foods are converted to a sugar called glucose. Glucose is your body's main source of energy. Your body's pancreas produces a hormone called insulin to convert the glucose to energy. When you have diabetes, your body has trouble producing enough insulin or using insulin, or both.

There are three main types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes. The pancreas makes no insulin, and daily injections of insulin are needed to process glucose.
  • Type 2 diabetes. The pancreas may not make enough insulin or the body may not use it properly (called insulin resistance).
  • Gestational diabetes. During pregnancy, important hormones that are needed for the baby's growth interfere with insulin. This happens to all women during pregnancy, but most women can make enough extra insulin to keep their blood glucose levels under control. With gestational diabetes:
    • Your body has trouble producing the extra insulin needed.
    • Your blood glucose levels become higher than normal.
    • The extra glucose is passed on to your baby.

Who gets gestational diabetes?

About 3 to 8 percent of pregnant women in America develop gestational diabetes. The risk is higher than average if you:

  • had it during previous pregnancies
  • have given birth to a baby who weighed more than nine pounds
  • had abnormal blood glucose levels in the past
  • are obese
  • have a family history of diabetes
  • are older than age 25
  • have had a stillbirth or more than one miscarriage
  • are carrying twins or triplets
  • are a member of certain ethnic groups

However, women sometimes develop gestational diabetes without being in any one of the risk groups.

You did not cause this to happen to you and your baby. Gestational diabetes often happens for reasons that can't be explained.

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Gestational Diabetes: When You Have Diabetes During Pregnancy, third edition, ISBN 1-931876-21-6
Reviewed By: Reviewed by Allina Health's Patient Education Department experts
First Published: 11/27/2006
Last Reviewed: 01/20/2014