Can diabetes cause preterm labor?

November 30, 2021

November is National Diabetes Month, so it’s important to understand the condition and your risk of developing it.

Diabetes is a condition in which your body has too much sugar in the blood (called blood sugar or glucose). In the United States, about 1 to 2 percent of pregnant women have preexisting diabetes. Preexisting diabetes means you have diabetes before you get pregnant. And, 7 out of every 100 pregnant women (7 percent) develop diabetes during pregnancy, also called gestational diabetes. Untreated diabetes increases your risk of pregnancy complications.

Diabetes can be serious

Gestational diabetes usually goes away after you give birth. But if you have it in one pregnancy, you’re more likely to have it in your next pregnancy. You’re also more likely to develop diabetes later in life. Having diabetes or gestational diabetes can cause you to go into preterm labor before 37 weeks gestation. Babies born this early can face serious health problems including long-term intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Are you at risk for gestational diabetes?

You may be more likely than other women to develop gestational diabetes if:

  • You’re older than 25.
  • You’re overweight or obese and not physically active.
  • You had gestational diabetes or a baby with macrosomia (when a baby weighs more than 8 pounds, 13 ounces (4,000 grams) at birth) in a past pregnancy.
  • You have high blood pressure or you’ve had heart disease.
  • You have polycystic ovarian syndrome (also called polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS). This is a hormone imbalance that can affect a women’s reproductive and overall health.
  • You have prediabetes. This means your blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be diabetes.
  • You have a parent, brother or sister who has diabetes.

You can develop gestational diabetes even if you don't have any of these risk factors. This is why your health care provider tests you for gestational diabetes during pregnancy.

How do you know if you have gestational diabetes?

If you’re pregnant, you will get a glucose tolerance test at 24 to 28 weeks of pregnancy, or earlier if your provider thinks you’re likely to develop gestational diabetes. You may have heard of other pregnant women having to drink a thick syrupy drink – this is part of the glucose tolerance test, along with measuring your blood glucose levels.

What can you do to help manage gestational diabetes?

  • Go to all your prenatal care checkups, even if you’re feeling fine.
  • Follow your provider’s directions about how often to check your blood sugar.
  • Eat healthy foods. Choosing healthy foods, eating the right amount and having regular meals can help you control your blood sugar.
  • Be active: Physical activity helps regulate your blood sugar. Ask your provider how much and what type of activity is best for you. It’s OK for most pregnant women to do 30 minutes of moderate physical activity (like walking, riding a stationary bike) each day.
  • If you take medicine for diabetes, take it exactly as your provider tells you to.
  • Check your weight gain during pregnancy. Gaining too much weight or gaining weight too fast can make it harder to manage your blood sugar. Talk to your provider about the right amount of weight to gain during pregnancy.

Learn more about managing preexisting diabetes and gestational diabetes.