How Does Gestational Diabetes Affect Your Baby? Experts Weigh In

Gestational diabetes [GD] is a very common worry among pregnant ladies. Especially because in addition to all the other stuff you put up with while you're pregnant, who wants to give themselves insulin injections or prick their finger several times a day to check their glucose levels? According to the American Pregnancy Association (APA), 2 to 5 percent of women develop GD. And if you have certain risk factors, that number rises to 7 to 9 percent. But in addition to how gestational diabetes affects you, how does gestational diabetes affect your baby?

What is gestational diabetes exactly, and how do you get it? The APA noted that, much like having diabetes when you’re not pregnant, it’s a condition where your body doesn’t produce enough insulin while you’re pregnant, which affects how your body regulates sugar. "It may also be called glucose intolerance or carbohydrate intolerance," the website added.

Thankfully, only 5 percent of women develop diabetes during their pregnancy, says Dr. Kurt Martinuzzi, OB-GYN at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, in an email to Romper.

So how do some women end up with gestational diabetes and others do not?

According to Martinuzzi, unfortunately, women who have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), or are Hispanic, African American, Native American, or Pacific Islander have an increased risk of getting gestational diabetes. He also notes that some women's bodies naturally produce too much blood sugar in their bloodstreams through no fault of their own, because the placenta is producing large amounts of hormones that may cause insulin resistance. "The last third of pregnancy, you want the baby to put on weight, so the body is designed to increase available glucose/sugar in the bloodstream — and in about 5 percent of women, the body overshoots," Martinuzzi says.

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Anita Mirchandani, M.S., R.D, C.D.N says to Romper in an email, "Susceptibility to gestational diabetes during pregnancy includes [already having] a high-risk pregnancy, obesity or being diagnosed as overweight, or having diabetes prior to pregnancy (i.e., Type 1)."

But how does gestational diabetes affect your baby if you have it?

"When you can’t control your blood sugars, and you have gestational diabetes, women will have larger babies — which means an even more difficult delivery," Martinuzzi explains. Factors that make up a complicated delivery from uncontrolled blood sugars include a greater need for forceps or a vacuum during delivery because of the baby’s size, the baby getting stuck after the head is out (shoulder dystocia), birth trauma, and an increased risk of needing a C-section, he adds.

Mirchandani says, "Typically, a gestational diabetic pregnancy results in babies who may have a large birth weight, premature delivery, and an increased chance of C-section." Apparently, even after your baby is born, there could be some risks, and Mirchandani says your baby’s blood sugar should be monitored closely to ensure they are at normal levels.

"After birth, babies could have an increased risk of low blood sugars, breathing problems, and jaundice (turning yellow due to a buildup of bilirubin), which might require treatment with 'bili lights,' in addition to an increased lifelong risk of developing diabetes," Martinuzzi says.

If you're looking for ways to possibly prevent gestational diabetes, Mirchandani recommends focusing on a wholesome variety of foods in your diet. "[Eat] vegetables in a variety of forms, legumes, whole grains, eggs and dairy if possible."

Martinuzzi agrees. "Over one’s lifetime, a plant-based diet leads to decreased risk of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease," he says. "Diet and risk of getting GD is an ongoing area of research, but a high-fiber, low-glycemic index diet might decrease one's risk of GD."

Already have gestational diabetes or are at a higher risk? Don’t fret, because according to Martinuzzi, even if you’ve been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, your baby may not be affected. "If you keep your blood sugars in normal range, your baby will be a normal size and you’ll likely have an uncomplicated vaginal delivery," he says. If you’re closely monitored by your OB-GYN, and they treat your gestational diabetes quickly and effectively, the risk of complications is lowered.

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"The good news is that 85 percent of women who become diabetic can control their sugar levels with diet and exercise," Martinuzzi says. "The other 15 percent will need treatment with medication — usually tablets of glyburide, and rarely insulin."

By getting your glucose test done at the doctor when you’re supposed to, not only will they be able to catch that you have gestational diabetes in plenty of time, but they’ll be able to help you track, monitor, and regulate your blood sugar levels during your pregnancy, so it won’t affect your baby during birth and after they are born.