Can gestational diabetes lead to type 2 diabetes? How to reduce your risk

March 21, 2021

If you had gestational diabetes during your last pregnancy, you might be at risk for developing type 2 diabetes later in life. Because March 23 is American Diabetes Alert Day, read about how you can reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. If it’s not controlled, type 2 diabetes can increase the risk of birth defects in your baby.

Gestational diabetes is a kind of diabetes that some people get during pregnancy. It’s a condition in which your body has too much sugar (called glucose) in the blood. For most pregnant people, gestational diabetes goes away after giving birth. According to the CDC, about half of pregnant people with gestational diabetes (50%) go on to develop type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is the most common kind of diabetes. It causes your pancreas to make too little insulin or your body becomes resistant to it (can’t use it normally). 

Can having type 2 diabetes harm your baby?

Yes. If it’s not managed well, diabetes can increase your baby’s risk of having birth defects, like heart defects and birth defects of the brain and spine called neural tube defects (also called NTDs). Birth defects are health conditions that are present at birth. Birth defects change the shape or function of one or more parts of the body. They can cause problems in overall health, how the body develops, or in how the body works.

Type 2 diabetes also can raise your risk of having a Cesarean birth (also called c-section), high blood pressure, preeclampsia, perinatal depression, preterm birth, miscarriage or stillbirth. It can cause your baby to be too large or too small  at birth, or cause shoulder dystocia or other birth injuries.

Having diabetes when you get pregnant (pre-existing diabetes) also can increase your baby’s risk for health problems, including:

  • Autism spectrum disorder, a group of developmental disabilities that can cause social, communication and behavioral challenges
  • Enlarged organs if your baby is very large
  • Jaundice, which is when a baby’s eyes and skin look yellow because his liver isn’t fully developed or isn’t working
  • Being overweight later in life
  • Hypoglycemia, also called low blood sugar
  • Polycythemia, which is when the body makes too many red blood cells
  • Respiratory distress syndrome (RDS), a breathing problem caused when babies don’t have enough surfactant in their lungs. Surfactant is a protein that keeps the small air sacs in the lungs from collapsing.

Can you reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes?

Here are some steps you can take to reduce your risk after pregnancy:

  • Nurse your baby. Chestfeeding can help you lose weight after pregnancy. Having too much weight makes you more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
  • Get tested for diabetes 4 to 12 weeks after your baby is born. If the test is normal, get tested again every 1 to 3 years.
  • Get exercise.
  • Eat  healthy foods.
  • Get to and stay at a healthy weight.
  • Talk to your provider about medicine that may help prevent type 2 diabetes.

You can take this online quiz to see if you’re at risk for type 2 diabetes.

Talk with your health care provider about your risk of developing type 2 diabetes after having gestational diabetes. It’s also a good idea to have a preconception checkup before you get pregnant again. A preconception checkup is a medical checkup you get before pregnancy. It helps your health care provider make sure you’re healthy and that your body is ready for pregnancy.