Babies born from a person with gestational diabetes may be at a higher risk of living with obesity or having diabetes later in life. However, many will go on to have no related health issues.
Gestational diabetes is a condition that causes elevated blood sugar levels during pregnancy. It is often temporary for the pregnant person and resolves after childbirth.
This article explores the potential long-term effects of gestational diabetes on the baby’s health and discusses ways to mitigate these risks.
Research suggests that children born to a person with gestational diabetes are
There is also some older insight suggesting that the child of a person with gestational diabetes is six times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes (T2DM) than another child born to a person without the condition. T2DM is different from T1DM and occurs when the pancreas becomes less proficient at making insulin, and the body becomes resistant to insulin.
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) notes that during pregnancy, gestational diabetes can cause the fetus to experience high blood sugar levels. This causes the fetus’ pancreas to produce extra insulin. As the fetus is getting more energy than it requires to grow and develop, the body stores the extra energy as fat.
This can result in fetal macrosomia. This is the medical term for when a baby is born much larger than the average size for their gestational age. A 2023 systematic review and meta-analysis notes that fetal macrosomia predisposes the child to a higher risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus later in life.
Living with obesity can also lead to a range of health issues,
As well as potential long-term complications for the child, gestational diabetes also carries some risks during birth. This can
- Large birth weight: This can make delivery more difficult and poses risks to both the person giving birth and the baby. This may also mean that a cesarean delivery is necessary.
- Premature birth: Gestational diabetes can increase the risk of premature birth, which may result in complications
- high bilirubin levels
- low calcium levels
- issues with high red blood cells
- breathing issues
- birth trauma
- Hypoglycemia: Some babies born to a person with gestational diabetes may experience low blood sugar levels shortly after birth.
Preventing gestational diabetes is not always possible. However, a person can reduce their risk of developing the condition. They can do so by managing their weight, keeping active, and following a healthy, balanced diet before becoming pregnant.
Managing gestational diabetes involves a combination of lifestyle modifications. In some cases, it may also involve prescription medication.
Some ways a person can manage gestational diabetes
Balanced eating plan
A person can work with a dietitian or healthcare team to create a personalized meal plan that focuses on balanced eating. The plan will likely explain which foods to eat, how much, and when to eat.
Regular physical activity
Physical activity helps lower blood sugar levels by improving insulin sensitivity. A person can choose activities that are safe during pregnancy, such as swimming, prenatal yoga, or stationary cycling.
Individuals should aim for at least 30 minutes of activity most days of the week unless advised differently by their healthcare professional.
Regular monitoring of blood sugar levels
In some cases, a person’s healthcare professional may ask them to monitor their blood sugar levels with a glucose meter or continuous glucose monitor (CGM). Monitoring blood sugar levels helps check if they are in a target range. A person can discuss their individual target with a healthcare professional.
Regular prenatal check-ups
A person should attend all scheduled prenatal appointments to monitor the progress of their pregnancy, their health, and the health of the fetus. During pregnancy with gestational diabetes, the healthcare team will monitor blood sugar levels and conduct assessments.
Read on to learn more about ways to reduce the risk of gestational diabetes.
It is not possible to reduce the risk of a child developing T1DM. However, it is possible to help reduce a child’s risk of developing T2DM or obesity. This typically involves instilling healthier habits early in the child’s life, for example:
- Encouraging a balanced dietary plan: A caregiver can foster healthy eating habits by providing a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low fat dairy products. Limiting sugary and high calorie foods can also be beneficial.
- Promoting regular exercise: Encouraging physical activity from an early age can help maintain a moderate weight. A caregiver can encourage the child to find activities they enjoy doing.
- Monitoring health: A caregiver can schedule regular check-ups with a pediatric healthcare professional to monitor the child’s growth and development.
- Educating about healthier choices: Teaching the child the importance of making healthy choices, such as dietary decisions and physical activity, can help them maintain a moderate weight.
Gestational diabetes can have long-term effects on the baby. These can include an increased risk of developing diabetes and obesity. However, many children may go on to have no health issues relating to gestational diabetes.
However, to help mitigate the risks, it is essential for the pregnant person to receive early and consistent prenatal care, manage gestational diabetes effectively, and encourage a balanced lifestyle for the child as they grow up.