When you’re expecting, at the top of the laundry-list of worries that consumes your brain is the health and safety of your baby. Every little stomach gurgle, bellyache, or change in your body can make you pause and wonder if they’re OK in there. When you have gestational diabetes, it can amplify those already ever-present concerns. So, exactly how does gestational diabetes affect your baby? Knowing what to expect can help put your fears at ease.
Gestational Diabetes, Explained
Gestational diabetes occurs in anywhere from 2% to 10% of pregnancies in the U.S. each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). So, the condition is not super common, but it’s not exactly uncommon either.
“Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that arises only during pregnancy,” Dr. Jessica Shepherd, an obstetrician and Chief Medical Officer of Verywell Health, tells Romper. “Women will typically experience a spike in blood sugar levels which can be harmful to both them and the baby.”
The condition can affect anyone, even if you had no health complications prior to pregnancy. That’s why having a blood glucose test during pregnancy — you know, when you drink that sugary orange drink during your second trimester — is standard. While it’s a manageable condition, it’s important to be aware of how gestational diabetes can potentially affect both you and your baby.
How Gestational Diabetes Impacts Your Baby’s Development
“Gestational diabetes can impact your baby in a few ways,” Shepherd says. “Complications can include placenta problems and the transfer of oxygen, extra sugar being passed to the baby resulting in excessive growth, jaundice, or hypoglycemia.”
Additionally, Shepherd explains that moms with gestational diabetes are at an increased risk for pre-term labor, “which can pose a few health concerns for the baby such as low birth weight or underdeveloped organs.”
Though low birth weight can be a complication caused by premature labor, some babies born to moms with this condition are actually larger than expected, which comes with its own set of complications. “Gestational diabetes can lead to the fetus being larger than expected for gestational age, increased amniotic fluid and in rare cases when blood sugar is not controlled, stillbirth,” Dr. Kelly Culwell, an obstetrician and Forbes Health Advisory Board Member, tells Romper.
Potential Birth Complications Caused By Gestational Diabetes
Gestational diabetes can also have an impact on your birth plan. “Babies of mothers with gestational diabetes tend to be larger and this excess weight is usually concentrated around the shoulders and belly,” Culwell says. “This can increase the risk of needing a C-section because the baby can't make it down the birth canal, or complications during vaginal delivery like shoulder dystocia — where the shoulders get stuck after the baby's head comes out — which can lead to injuries to the baby during birth.”
Another potential post-birth complication caused by gestational diabetes is your baby’s ability to breathe properly once they’re out of the womb. “These babies can also have breathing problems after birth due to high blood sugar's impact on lung development or low blood sugar after birth as a result of producing so much insulin to counteract the high blood sugar of the mother,” says Culwell.
Once your baby is born, potential complications caused by gestational diabetes could also impact their ability to thrive. “Low blood sugar, prematurity and difficulty breathing can make feeding sessions more difficult,” Shepherd explains. “The baby may also experience jaundice and high level of red blood cells.” While these conditions are usually treatable at birth, proper management of your gestational diabetes while pregnant can help stave off potential problems.
Long Term Affects Of Gestational Diabetes For Babies
“Long term risks for babies born from moms with gestational diabetes can include an increased risk of developing diabetes in the future, as well as increased risk of obesity,” Culwell says. There’s no guarantee that this will happen, of course, but it’s an important potential risk to be aware of.
Thankfully, even if you are diagnosed with gestation diabetes, experts agree that it is possible to mitigate potential problems for you and your baby. “All of these risks are significantly decreased with good control of blood sugars — either with diet or medication — during pregnancy which is why testing for gestational diabetes and appropriate monitoring and treatment are so important,” Culwell tells Romper.
Remember, gestational diabetes is manageable. “If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, it’s best to speak to your doctor so that you can manage symptoms and reduce risk of harm to the unborn child,” Shepherd tells Romper. “This typically includes exercise, eating healthy, and regularly testing your blood sugar levels.”
Dr. Jessica Shepherd, MD, OBGYN, Chief Medical Officer of Verywell Health
Dr. Kelly Culwell, OBGYN and Forbes Health Advisory Board Member