There are many complications for undiagnosed or poorly managed diabetes in pregnancy. They can affect both the mother and baby, as well as have implications for you both in the future.
Gestational diabetes has been found to be associated with both short-term complications and long-term complications to both the mother and child. It is vital to maintain blood glucose levels as near normal as possible throughout the pregnancy to minimise complications. Safely controlling sugars minimises the chance of complications from happening.
It is important to remember that the complications of gestational diabetes are different to the complications of type 2 diabetes.
Gestational diabetes can increase the risk of developing a number of complications in the mother when left undiagnosed or poorly managed. These include:
In gestational diabetes, the baby is more likely to be a large baby due to excessive weight. This can result in having a caesarean section or a forceps delivery which may be distressing for those mothers who wanted to have a natural birth.
In women who have had gestational diabetes, they are at an increased risk of developing gestational diabetes again for any future pregnancies. You are also more likely to develop type 2 diabetes as you get older. Healthy lifestyle choices can help to minimise the risk of gestational diabetes and type 2 diabetes. Leading a healthy lifestyle following pregnancy, can reduce the development of type 2 diabetes by 50% or more (to Prevention of Type 2 Diabetes in Women With Previous Gestational Diabetes).
Complications that can happen to the baby include being bigger at birth with the associated risks of a delivery from a large baby. Babies are also likely to be more immature and can experience breathing difficulties after birth and very low blood sugar levels. In the long term a child exposed to high blood sugar levels during gestation is more likely to be overweight and develop diabetes once an adult.
Excessive birth weight, also referred to as large for gestational age, occurs due to increased glucose in your bloodstream crosses the placenta. This causes your baby’s pancreas to start producing extra insulin, resulting in the baby growing too large. Very large babies, weighing 9 pounds (4kgs) or more, can become stuck in the birth canal, causing injuries to you or require an emergency C-section.
High blood glucose levels may increase the risk of a mother experiencing early labour and delivering the baby before the due date. Babies that are born too early may experience respiratory distress syndrome, which is a condition that makes breathing difficult, and require assistance breathing. Babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes, could experience respiratory distress syndrome without being born early (Management of Infants of Diabetic Mothers).
Some babies of mothers with gestational diabetes, may experience low blood glucose levels shortly after birth if their own insulin production is too high.
Babies are at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life, if their mother had gestational diabetes (Short- and long-range complications in offspring of diabetic mothers).