Gestational diabetes (GDM)  is caused by high blood glucose that develops during pregnancy and usually disappears after birth. GDM can affect the health of the mother and the baby, with possible long-term consequences. It can lead to pregnancy-related complications, including high blood pressure, large birth weight babies and obstructed labour. However, lifestyle changes and medication can help manage the condition.

During pregnancy, the placenta produces hormones that can interfere with the body’s ability to use insulin effectively. This is known as insulin resistance, a normal part of pregnancy. However, in some women, insulin resistance becomes too high, leading to gestational diabetes.

In 2021, about 21.1 million live births or 16.7%, had some form of high blood glucose (hyperglycaemia) during pregnancy. The condition is more common in low- and middle-income countries with limited access to maternal care.

Women over 45 are at greater risk of hyperglycaemia during pregnancy, while women with a history of GDM have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes within five to ten years after delivery.

Children exposed to high blood glucose levels during pregnancy may also be at higher risk of becoming overweight or obese and developing type 2 diabetes.

South Asian woman holding a baby

Causes and risk factors of GDM

The exact cause of gestational diabetes is not yet known. Still, several risk factors can increase the chances of developing GDM. These include:

  • Living with overweight or obesity
  • Being over the age of 45
  • Having a family history of diabetes or gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy
  • Having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
Pregnant woman checking her blood glucose to manage gestational diabetes.

Commons symptoms of GDM

Gestational diabetes often has no symptoms. However, some women may experience symptoms such as:

  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Fatigue
  • Blurred vision
  • Nausea
  • Frequent infections, such as yeast infections

Managing GDM

Gestational diabetes can be managed with a combination of lifestyle changes and medication. In most cases, women with gestational diabetes can manage their blood sugar levels by making dietary changes and exercising regularly. However, some women may need insulin or other medications to control their blood sugar levels.

Diet plays a crucial role in managing gestational diabetes. Generally, women with gestational diabetes should eat a diet rich in vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. In addition, smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day can help regulate blood sugar levels.

Regular exercise can help manage gestational diabetes by lowering blood sugar levels and improving insulin sensitivity. Healthcare professionals generally recommend moderate-intensity exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, most days. This can include brisk walking, swimming, or prenatal yoga.

The importance of early detection

Early detection of gestational diabetes is crucial for prompt treatment, which can help prevent complications for both mother and baby. Women at high risk of gestational diabetes should be screened during their first prenatal visit. Further recommendations advise screening all pregnant women for gestational diabetes between 24 and 28 weeks.

IDF gestational diabetes resources


IDF GDM Model of Care Implementation Protocol

The IDF GDM Model of Care was piloted in seven (urban and rural) collaborating health centres in Tamil Nadu State (South India), from June 2012 to December 2015. It was developed using best practice of care and established clinical guidelines.
attachments-47.pdf pdf 1MB

Management of gestational diabetes in the community

A training manual for community health workers, developed as part of the IDF Women in India with GDM Strategy (WINGS).
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Having a baby? Now is the time to learn more about gestational diabetes

An educational manual with information and advice on having a healthy baby.
attachments-59.pdf pdf 1MB