Complications of gestational diabetes  

Most women with gestational diabetes go on to have normal pregnancies with healthy babies.

The risk of complications is reduced if gestational diabetes is diagnosed and managed properly throughout your pregnancy.

This involves monitoring and controlling the level of glucose in your blood during pregnancy.

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Possible complications

If gestational diabetes is not managed properly, or goes undetected, it could cause a range of serious complications for both you and your baby, including:

  • your baby being large for its gestational age – i.e. weighing more than 4kg (8.8lbs) (macrosomia)  this increases the need for induced labour or a caesarean birth, and may lead to birth problems such as shoulder dystocia (see below)
  • premature birth (your baby being born before week 27 of the pregnancy)  which can lead to complications such as newborn jaundice or respiratory distress syndrome
  • your baby having health problems shortly after birth that require hospital care  such as low blood sugar
  • miscarriage  the loss of a pregnancy during the first 23 weeks
  • stillbirth  the death of your baby around the time of the birth

Shoulder dystocia

Macrosomia can lead to a condition called shoulder dystocia. This is when your baby’s head passes through your vagina, but your baby’s shoulder gets stuck behind your pelvic bone (the ring of bone that supports your upper body – also called the hip bones).

Shoulder dystocia can be dangerous, as your baby may not be able to breathe while they are stuck. It's estimated to affect 1 in 200 births. For more information, see Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists: shoulder dystocia: (PDF, 223kb).

After the birth

Gestational diabetes increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes after the pregnancy.

Type 2 diabetes is when your body either does not produce enough insulin, or the body’s cells do not react to the insulin (insulin resistance).

Read more information about type 2 diabetes.

Therefore, it's important that your blood glucose is monitored after the birth to check whether or not it returns to normal.

Your baby may be at greater risk of developing diabetes or obesity (having a body mass index of more than 30) later in life.

Future pregnancies

After having gestational diabetes, you are at increased risk of having gestational diabetes in any future pregnancies.

It's very important to speak to your GP if you are planning another pregnancy. They may arrange for you to monitor your own blood glucose from the early stages.

Media last reviewed: 08/04/2013

Next review due: 08/04/2015

Page last reviewed: 07/08/2014

Next review due: 07/08/2016