Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that develops during pregnancy. Women who develop gestational diabetes do not have diabetes before becoming pregnant, and usually do not have diabetes after delivery. 

Gestational diabetes impacts not only the mother but also the baby. It can lead to various health concerns and can increase the risk of birth injuries in newborns

If you are expecting or are planning to become pregnant, it is important to know what the risks of gestational diabetes are. Here are five ways that gestational diabetes can impact your infant. 

5 Ways Gestational Diabetes Impacts Infants

While gestational diabetes can be controlled through prenatal care, you should know what the risks and complications are for your baby. 

1. Large Infant Size

When a pregnant mother has gestational diabetes, the baby is overfed due to her high or uncontrolled blood sugar levels. This often leads to large infant size. 

Having a large infant increases the risk of a necessary Cesarean section (c-section). It also increases the risk of birth injuries like shoulder dystocia, brachial plexus injury, or lack of oxygen at birth. [1]

2. Premature Delivery

Gestational diabetes can lead to premature birth if it is not properly diagnosed or treated. A baby is called premature when it is born before 37 weeks gestation. 

Complications related to gestational diabetes can require induced labor, or may need an emergency c-section. According to the March of Dimes, premature infants are more likely to have health problems immediately, and in the future. 

3. Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Sugar)

Women who have low blood sugar that is not well controlled may find that their infant has low blood sugar after birth, which is called hypoglycemia. 

To stabilize low blood sugar, the infant needs to be fed promptly and regularly and may require intravenous glucose administration. Without careful monitoring and treatment, hypoglycemia can cause seizures in newborns. [2]

4. Jaundice

Newborn jaundice is a fairly common occurrence and is even more common in babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes. [3]

Jaundice is most clearly recognized by the yellowish color of the skin or eyes. It happens due to increased levels of bilirubin in the baby’s blood. Bilirubin is a pigment located in blood cells. [3]

While jaundice is relatively common and is often considered easily treatable, severe cases can lead to a condition called kernicterus. This condition is the result of extremely high bilirubin levels that cause bilirubin to pool in the brain. [4]

Brain damage is common with kernicterus, including cerebral palsy, intellectual disabilities, and hearing loss. Severe cases can also be fatal. 

5. Increased Risk of Type-2 Diabetes Later in Life

Babies who are born to mothers suffering from gestational diabetes are at a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes later in life. Researchers have found a link between gestational diabetes and children developing diabetes by age 22. 

In one study, children born to mothers with gestational diabetes were twice as likely to develop diabetes. [5

A study from Diabetes UK has estimated the risk to be even higher, with babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes being six times more likely to develop diabetes. [6]

Can Gestational Diabetes be Prevented?

Gestational diabetes can definitely have an impact on the health of your unborn child or newborn, or even your child later in life. 

There is no guarantee that you will not develop gestational diabetes, but there are some things you can do to reduce the risk of developing it. For example:

  • Eat a Healthy Diet – Consume a diet that is rich in whole grains, fiber, and healthy fats. Avoid unhealthy fats and high-calorie foods, refined sugars, and too much sodium. 
  • Maintain Physical Activity – It is recommended that women planning to become pregnant start exercising beforehand. Women who are already physically fit can maintain physical activity throughout pregnancy as long as complications do not prevent it.

         Even something as simple as walking, going for a swim, or practicing yoga can help maintain a healthy body. 

  • Monitor Your Weight – Your doctor will help you maintain a healthy weight during pregnancy, but you should let them know if you experience a sudden or extreme weight gain. Women who are overweight or obese are more likely to develop gestational diabetes.

Bottom Line

The best thing that you can do for your health, pregnancy, and infant is to stay healthy before and during your pregnancy. 

Following a healthy lifestyle that includes nutritious foods and regular exercise may reduce your risk of developing gestational diabetes or other physical problems during pregnancy.

Talk to your doctor about gestational diabetes, what to look for, and what it means for you and your baby’s health.