Diabetes in pregnancy
As your pregnancy develops your body will need to produce more insulin. If your body can’t produce enough, your blood sugar levels will rise and you may develop gestational diabetes.
At a glance
- Gestational diabetes occurs only in pregnancy and should go after the birth
- It can be controlled with a new diet or medication
- In some cases gestational diabetes can be previously undiagnosed type 2 diabetes
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a condition that develops when the amount of sugar in your blood is too high. Your body produces a hormone called insulin to help your body to turn sugar into energy. When the body can’t produce enough insulin, your blood sugar levels become too high and you may then develop diabetes.
There are 3 types of diabetes: type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes only occurs in pregnancy and resolves once you’ve given birth.
Why might I develop gestational diabetes in pregnancy?
During your pregnancy, especially towards the middle and second half, your body will need to produce more insulin to make up for the hormones from the placenta which make your body less responsive to it. If your body struggles to meet this extra demand for insulin, your blood sugar levels will rise and you may develop gestational diabetes.
It’s a common condition for pregnant women affecting around 1 in 20 mums-to-be.
How will I know if I've developed gestational diabetes?
Your midwife will make you aware if they think you may be more susceptible to developing diabetes in pregnancy. They may offer you a test which can determine if you have it. You’re more likely to develop gestational diabetes if your BMI is 30 or more, if you've had it before with a previous pregnancy, or if a close relative has.
You may also have the following symptoms:
- Feeling excessively tired
- Have a dry mouth and very thirsty
- Weeing a lot more than usual
- Have blurring vision
- Get reoccurring infections
If you develop any of these symptoms you should speak to your doctor or midwife.
What are the treatments for diabetes in pregnancy?
If you do develop gestational diabetes your midwife or a specialist from a diabetic clinic will advise you on how to control your blood sugar levels through a combination of exercise and healthy eating.
If changes to your diet and exercise don’t help with the diabetes, you may need to take medication to help your body control the blood sugar levels or start to inject insulin.
Will diabetes in pregnancy harm my baby?
If you develop gestational diabetes you’ll be offered an extra ultrasound scan to check your baby’s development, and you’ll likely be given extra scans further into your pregnancy to monitor development further. It’s important that you also pay attention to your baby’s movements and let your midwife know if you notice a change in the amount of movement.
Having diabetes increases the chance or premature labour and can also lead to more complications during labour. Your blood sugar levels will be continually checked and controlled during labour to prevent problems developing with your baby after they are born.
It’s also possible that your baby may be born with low blood sugar levels until their body adjusts to making the right amount of insulin.
There is a higher risk of giving birth to a large baby, which can lead to birth complications, such as birth trauma like severe bleeding or tearing or bone fractures for the baby.
Women suffering from diabetes have an increased risk of stillbirth so delivery is planned for before the due date. (Please note that although the risk of stillbirth is increased, it is still low).
Will I still have gestational diabetes after my baby is born?
Unlike type 1 and type 2 diabetes, gestational diabetes isn't a lifelong condition and it will go away after the birth. Around 1 in 5 mums who are diagnosed with gestational diabetes will actually already have type 2 diabetes before pregnancy that had gone undiagnosed. If this is the case, your doctor will provide you with advice and support for controlling the condition.
Watch this NHS video on diabetes in pregnancy.