Gestational Diabetes (or GDM, for short) is diabetes which first presents during pregnancy and which usually resolves after a woman gives birth.  However, women with GDM are at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

GDM affects approximately 5% of pregnancies in Australia, although women from certain ethnic backgrounds (particularly those of Indian or Chinese origin) are more likely to be affected.

It is recommended that all women are screened for GDM at 24-28 weeks of pregnancy, or earlier if they are at high risk.

Who is at risk?

Women at increased risk include those:

  • with a family history of type 2 diabetes
  • from high-risk ethnic backgrounds
  • with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • who are overweight prior to pregnancy
  • who are over 30 years of age
  • who have had GDM in a previous pregnancy

What is GDM?

GDM develops because hormonal changes in pregnancy make it harder for the body’s insulin to work properly (a condition known as insulin resistance) and some women are unable to make the extra insulin needed to overcome this resistance. Insulin is the hormone that helps to control blood glucose levels, so when it doesn’t work properly, glucose levels build up in the blood.  This can cause problems for both the mother and her baby, so blood glucose levels need to be tightly managed during pregnancy to reduce the risk of complications.

For many women, GDM can be managed with changes to diet and activity levels, along with regular monitoring of blood glucose levels. However, some women will need to take insulin to help in managing their blood glucose levels during pregnancy.

While the diabetes goes away after pregnancy, it is important that women who have had GDM take steps to reduce their risk of developing GDM in a future pregnancy and their risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. They can do this by eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.  Breastfeeding also lowers a woman’s risk of developing diabetes in the future.

For more information:

Visit the Diabetes Australia Gestational Diabetes website to learn more about GDM and to download booklets on managing GDM and life after GDM.

References:

Managing Gestational Diabetes (Diabetes Australia)

Risk factors: Breastfeeding reduces risk of diabetes mellitus 

Beneficial effects of breastfeeding in women with gestational diabetes mellitus.

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