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There are many complications with gestational diabetes - These can affect both the mother and baby and last for years



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.


What are the complications associated with gestational diabetes?


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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.



How can gestational diabetes affect the mother?

Gestational diabetes can increase the risk of developing a number of complications in the mother when left undiagnosed or poorly managed. These include:

  • Difficult delivery
  • High blood pressure and preeclampsia
  • Future type 2 diabetes or gestational diabetes


Difficult delivery

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.


High blood pressure and preeclampsia

Gestational diabetes increases the risk of high blood pressure, as well as a condition called preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a dangerous condition which refers to the onset of high blood pressure and evidence of organ dysfunction occurring in the later stages of pregnancy (after 20 weeks gestation). The organs that can be affected include the kidneys, liver, lungs, and brain. Preeclampsia can also occur for the first-time during delivery. Preeclampsia can be life threatening to both mother and baby.


Future type 2 diabetes or gestational diabetes

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).



How does gestational diabetes affect your baby?

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.

  • Increased birth weight
  • Early birth and respiratory distress syndrome
  • Hypoglycaemia (low blood glucose)
  • Type 2 diabetes later in life


Increased birth weight

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.


Early birth and respiratory distress syndrome

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).


Hypoglycaemia (low blood glucose)

Some babies of mothers with gestational diabetes, may experience low blood glucose levels shortly after birth if their own insulin production is too high.


Type 2 diabetes later in life

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).



What should I do next?

If you experience any symptoms of gestational diabetes or you have risk factors for developing gestational diabetes, it is important to be tested at 24-28 weeks gestation. Some people are at higher risk than others. If you are 25 years or older or have other risk factors for diabetes, you may require testing earlier in pregnancy. By diagnosing and treating gestational diabetes, it means you can decrease the risk of developing or delay any further health complications of gestational diabetes. These complications can affect both you and your child later in life, for example you are both at risk of developing type 2 diabetes. It is important to know that diagnosing diabetes should not rely solely on using a Hb A1c test.

Once you learn what your gestational diabetes status is, or if you already have gestational diabetes, the next most important step is to become educated. You can join the Gestational Diabetes Program to help you learn how to manage gestational diabetes and improve health outcomes for you and your child. The program is personalised and tailored, giving you more of the content that you want. The program also helps you to stay motivated and teaches you what changes you need to make.





Interested in more information on gestational diabetes and diabetes in pregnancy?

Follow the links below to learn more about gestational diabetes.

Pregnant woman with gestational diabetes testing blood glucose levels

Monitoring Gestational Diabetes

Diabetes and diet in pregnancy and gestational diabetes

Diet
Gestational Diabetes

My Health Explained has easy to use tools to help track your progress

Tools for Gestational Diabetes

healthy lifestyle to prevent gestational diabetes

Preventing Gestational Diabetes