Gestational Diabetes



Glucose in the blood comes from food and glucose stored in the liver. Insulin helps glucose move from the blood to the cells. Problems making or using insulin makes blood glucose levels rise. This leads to GDM. It is not clear what causes some people to develop GDM. Changes in hormones during pregnancy may play a role.

Risk Factors

Things that raise the risk of GDM are:

  • Overweight or obesity
  • Family members with type 2 diabetes
  • Having GDM in the past
  • Heart disease
  • Low HDL (good) cholesterol and high triglycerides
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Lack of regular activity



Most people with GDM do not have symptoms. Others may have:

  • Increased urination (peeing)
  • Thirst
  • Nausea
  • Weakness


GDM testing is done as part of routine prenatal screening at 24 to 28 weeks of pregnancy. It may be done earlier for people at high risk.

A blood tests will check blood glucose levels. Other tests will be done if the first test shows high blood glucose. These tests are more sensitive and will help to confirm GDM and guide treatment.



Extra blood glucose during pregnancy acts as excess food for the baby. The baby then grows larger than normal. This can lead to a cesarean section or very high blood pressure called eclampsia. The baby also has a higher risk of injury during birth, such as to the shoulder.

The goal of treatment is to keep blood glucose at normal levels. This will help lower the risk of problems to both mother and baby. The care team will make a glucose management plan. It will include how to use exercise, meal plans, and medicine to manage blood glucose. Steps may be:

Blood Glucose Tracking

Blood glucose can be checked throughout the day. Home devices can test small amounts of blood for glucose levels.

A home urine test can also show if blood glucose has risen too high. This can lead to a problem called ketoacidosis. This will need medical care because it can quickly harm the mother and the growing baby.


Glucose is affected by the foods a person eats. A meal plan can help to balance the effect a meal has on glucose. Most plans will focus on eating 3 meals and 2 to 3 snacks per day. A dietitian can help to make balanced meal plans.


Physical activity makes it easier for glucose to move from the blood into cells. It can improve blood glucose levels and overall management. Exercise also has many benefits for pregnancy. General goals include movement on most days and at least 2.5 hours of exercise.


Medicine may be needed to better control glucose. It may be one of the following:

  • Anti-diabetes medicine
  • Insulin injections


The risk of GDM may be lowered by:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Regular exercise
  • Eating a balanced diet

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.