Gestational diabetes occurs when the hormones of a pregnant woman block the effectiveness of the insulin produced by the pancreas. The insulin becomes ineffective in metabolizing sugar. Insulin resistance causes blood glucose levels to be abnormally high.
Gestational diabetes has risks to the pregnant woman and her unborn baby. This diabetic condition usually resolves itself after the pregnancy. Women who develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy are at an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. The increased risk for type 2 diabetes is higher for women who were overweight before becoming pregnant.
Gestational diabetes does not increase the risk of birth defects. The unborn baby of a woman who has diabetes before pregnancy does have an increased risk of birth defects. Controlling the blood glucose levels is critical to reducing the risks of complications.
One of the most common complications of gestational diabetes is an increase in the size of the baby. The unborn baby of a mother with gestational diabetes produces high levels of insulin to cope with the high blood sugar levels of the mother. This insulin turns the excess glucose into energy.
Any energy that is not used is stored as fat. Therefore, the unborn baby of a mother with gestational diabetes tends to have extra fat and the resulting larger size than other babies. This large size can cause injury, difficulty, and complications during birth.
If the baby has an abnormally high amount of insulin in its blood at birth, it is at risk of developing hypoglycemia after birth. The high level of insulin was used to deal with the mother’s high blood sugar level. Without that extra sugar input, the extra insulin in the baby’s system can cause hypoglycemia. A baby in this state may need the administration of an intravenous glucose solution.
If the unborn baby has had high levels of insulin or glucose during the pregnancy, the baby’s lungs may have been slower to develop. This delayed lung development can cause respiratory distress in newborns, especially if the baby was born prematurely. This risk of respiratory distress to a full-term baby of a mother with gestational diabetes is generally minimal.