How does gestational diabetes affect the baby?

Gestational diabetes is a health condition that involves high levels of glucose in the blood while a woman in pregnant. While most women with gestational diabetes have normal pregnancies and give birth to healthy babies, there are a number of complications that are more likely to occur in mothers with uncontrolled gestational diabetes.

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Large Birth Weight

It is common for infant to be larger than normal for their gestational age, also known as macrosomia. This increases the risk of problems at birth and the likelihood of induced labor or a cesarean birth.

For example, large birth weight increases the risk of shoulder dystocia, which is a condition involving difficulty giving birth due to the large size of the infant’s torso that become lodged behind the pelvic bone. This can be dangerous as the head may be obstructed, blocking the breathing of the infant when the body is stuck.

Premature Birth

Mother’s with gestational diabetes are more likely to have a premature birth, before week 37 of the pregnancy, which carries a greater risk of complication for the baby, such as jaundice or respiratory distress syndrome.

Respiratory distress syndrome is a health condition that involved difficulty of breathing for the infant, often leading to the reliance on breathing assistance mechanisms in the early stages of life. With time, as the lungs mature and gain strength, the ability of the infant to breathe independently is almost always obtained.

Rebound Hypoglycemia

Shortly following the birth, it is common for infants born to a mother with gestational diabetes to experience health problems as a result of higher production of insulin that normal. Low blood sugar levels, known as hypoglycemia, are often observed and may result in symptoms such as irritability and excessive fatigue. In severe cases, this can lead to seizures in the infant.

Frequent feeds can help to reduce this effect, and some infants may require intravenous administration of glucose solution to cope with the low blood sugar levels until they return to normal.

Electrolyte Imbalances

In additional to abnormal levels of glucose in the blood of the infant, some babies may experience hypocalcemia or hypomagnesemia. Signs of this may include jitteriness or seizure of the baby, and there may be a delay in the synthesis of parathyroid hormone.

Congenital Malformation

The risk of birth defects is higher for mothers that are affected by gestational diabetes. In particular, there is an increased risk of anencephaly, spina bifida and caudal dysplasia.

Loss of Infant

In severe cases, gestational diabetes can contribute to the loss of the child. Women with the condition are more likely to experience a miscarriage or stillbirth.

Risks for the Mother

In addition to various effects for the baby, gestational diabetes can also have an impact on the health of the mother. In particular, women who suffer from gestational diabetes are more likely to get Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus at a later date and should, therefore, take measure to decrease their risk of the condition.

Additionally, there is an increased risk of gestational diabetes for any successive pregnancies that would likewise have an impact on the new infant.


Further Reading

Last Updated: Aug 23, 2018

Yolanda Smith

Written by

Yolanda Smith

Yolanda graduated with a Bachelor of Pharmacy at the University of South Australia and has experience working in both Australia and Italy. She is passionate about how medicine, diet and lifestyle affect our health and enjoys helping people understand this. In her spare time she loves to explore the world and learn about new cultures and languages.


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