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Gestational Diabetes: Risks May Not End After Pregnancy

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risks from gestational diabetes may extend past pregnancy Purestock/Thinkstock

This month, motherhood has been a topic for discussion. In a recent article, we learned that the health of mother and baby are sometimes shared.

This is why it’s so important to use preventative care, and get an early start making healthy choices.

One of the first health issues that a mother and child may go through together is gestational diabetes, which, according to studies, is on the rise.

According to the National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP), gestational diabetes can affect 7-18 percent of pregnancies in the United States.

Because risks for mother and child may continue even after birth, it’s important to understand the how, what and why.

Let’s start with the what:

Gestational diabetes means that your blood glucose (sugar) is too high. And although glucose is necessary energy for mother and child, too much can be harmful.


Although changing hormones and weight gain are part of a healthy pregnancy, these changes make it harder for your body’s insulin to do its job. When that happens, glucose levels may increase in your blood, leading to gestational diabetes.


Gestational diabetes comes with complications for mother and baby.

It may increase a mother’s risk of high blood pressure during pregnancy as well as the need for cesarean section delivery.

Untreated or uncontrolled gestational diabetes can cause the birth of an overly large baby with excess fat, which can make delivery both difficult and dangerous.

Babies may also experience breathing problems in addition to low blood glucose right after birth.

Can effects continue later in life?

According to Joanne M. Gallivan, M.S., R.D., Director of the National Diabetes Education Program, they can.

“Even though gestational diabetes is, by definition, diabetes diagnosed during pregnancy, sometimes diabetes doesn’t go away after delivery. Even if glucose returns to normal after pregnancy, a history of gestational diabetes has a lifelong impact on the mother’s risk for developing diabetes.”

Again, mom isn’t the only one at risk for this serious disease. A child of a gestational diabetes pregnancy may have an increased risk for developing both obesity as well as type 2 diabetes later in life.

How can this be avoided?

It’s important for women with a history of gestational diabetes to get tested 6-12 weeks after birth, and at least every three years after, according to the NDEP.

According to Gallivan, “Even after the baby is born, it is important for these women to try to reach and maintain a healthy weight by making healthy food choices.”

She recommends an eating plan that is high in fiber, and lower in fat and calories , as well as being active for at least 30 minutes, five days a week.

Breastfeeding is another protective factor for both mother and child. It may help protect against childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes, as well as help mom get back to pre-pregnancy weight.

Like all health concerns, women who have had gestational diabetes should inform their doctor if they wish to have another pregnancy.

As always, a healthy lifestyle is the best form of preventative care. And remember, healthy choices lead to a healthy lifestyle, which is good for the whole family!


Email interview with Joanne M. Gallivan, M.S., R.D., May 15, 2012.

Gestational Diabetes Causes, Complications, and Risks. (n.d.). WebMD Diabetes Center: Types, Causes, Symptoms, Tests, and Treatments. Retrieved May 15, 2012, from

National Diabetes Education Program - Free Information to Prevent and Control Diabetes | NDEP. (n.d.). National Diabetes Education Program - Free Information to Prevent and Control Diabetes | NDEP. Retrieved May 15, 2012, from http://ndep.nih.gov/

Reviewed May 22, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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