Understanding Gestational Diabetes: Causes, Risks, and Management

Gestational diabetes is a condition that affects pregnant women and is characterized by high blood sugar levels during pregnancy. It is important to raise awareness about gestational diabetes because it can cause significant short and long term health problems for both the mother and the baby. In this article, we will explore the causes, risks, and management strategies for gestational diabetes, which I hope will empower expectant mothers with knowledge and resources to navigate this condition effectively.

What is Gestational Diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is a temporary form of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy. It develops when the body is unable to produce or utilize enough insulin, resulting in elevated blood sugar levels. This condition typically arises during the second or third trimester and affects anywhere from 9-25% of pregnancies worldwide.(1)

Causes of Gestational Diabetes

The exact cause of gestational diabetes is not fully understood, but there are several risk factors that can contribute to its development. Some of these include:

  • Pre-pregnancy BMI: Pre-pregancy weight that is considered overweight or obese (BMI >24.99 for overweight and >29.9 for obese) have a higher risk of developing gestational diabetes and pregnancy-induced hypertension. (2
  • PCOS: PCOS stands for polycystic ovary syndrome and is characterized by a variety of metabolic complications that involve insulin resistance, hypertension, and diabetes. Gestational diabetes is the most frequent concern for women with PCOS. (3)
  • Dietary Habits: The term “Western diet” refers to a diet that is largely high in fat, sugar, and salt and is low in fiber. Some research has suggested that following this type of diet before pregnancy can increase the risk of gestational diabetes. (4)
  • Maternal Age: Some research suggests that the more advanced a woman’s age is, the higher the risk of developing gestational diabetes. (5)
  • Genetics: A family history of diabetes or a personal history of gestational diabetes can increase the likelihood of developing gestational diabetes. (6)
  • Hormonal changes: Pregnancy triggers hormonal changes and an increase in oxidative stress. This may interfere with insulin production and utilization, leading to insulin resistance. (7)

Risks Associated with Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes poses risks for both the mother and the baby. Understanding these risks can highlight the importance of managing the condition effectively.

Maternal risks (8)

  • Preeclampsia: Preeclampsia is a condition diagnosed by gestational hypertension and proteinuria. Gestational diabetes increases the risk of developing high blood pressure and preeclampsia during pregnancy.
  • Future diabetes risk: Women who have had gestational diabetes have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future.
  • Delivery complications: Gestational diabetes can lead to premature birth, cesarean delivery, or excessive birth weight.

Fetal risks (8)

  • Macrosomia: Infants born to mothers with gestational diabetes may be larger than average, increasing the risk of birth injuries and the need for cesarean delivery.
  • Hypoglycemia: After birth, babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes may experience low blood sugar levels.
  • Respiratory issues: Infants may develop respiratory distress syndrome due to elevated insulin levels.

Managing Gestational Diabetes

Managing gestational diabetes is crucial for maintaining optimal health for both the mother and the baby. Here are some strategies for effective management:

  • Healthy diet: Following a well-balanced diet rich in whole grains, lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables while limiting sugary and processed foods can help regulate blood sugar levels.
  • Regular physical activity: Engaging in moderate exercises approved by your healthcare professional can improve insulin sensitivity and help manage blood sugar levels.
  • Blood sugar monitoring: Regular monitoring of blood sugar levels using a glucose meter allows pregnant women to track their levels and make necessary adjustments to their diet and medication, if prescribed.
  • Medication, if necessary: In some cases, lifestyle changes alone may not be sufficient to manage gestational diabetes. Insulin injections or oral medication may be prescribed to regulate blood sugar levels.
  • Prenatal care: Attending regular prenatal check-ups and working closely with healthcare providers is vital for monitoring the health of both the mother and the baby.


Gestational diabetes, although temporary, requires careful management to reduce potential risks for both the mother and the baby. By understanding the causes, risks, and management strategies associated with this condition, expectant mothers can take proactive steps to maintain healthy blood sugar levels and ensure a successful pregnancy. With proper medical guidance, a balanced lifestyle, and regular monitoring, women can navigate gestational diabetes and promote the well-being of themselves and their babies.