Untreated gestational diabetes can involve risks for the parent and the baby. Therefore, people should work with a doctor to develop a treatment plan to keep their gestational diabetes under control.

Gestational diabetes is high blood sugar that does not manifest until pregnancy. It affects 2–10% of people who are pregnant each year.

In the birthing parent, it increases the likelihood of high blood pressure, which may lead to seizures or a stroke. In the baby, it can cause excess growth. This may result in a difficult delivery that produces nerve damage.

Read on to learn about the risks of gestational diabetes, how to treat it, and more.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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Gestational diabetes usually manifests in the middle of a pregnancy. Typically, it does not cause symptoms. When it does, symptoms may be mild and involve increased thirst and urination.

Left untreated, gestational diabetes can cause several risks for a birthing parent. These include:


A pregnant person has a higher risk of preeclampsia, which involves high blood pressure and protein in the urine. Preeclampsia can also cause lingering swelling in the fingers and toes.

The condition is serious and can lead to:

  • seizures
  • blood clots
  • stroke
  • bleeding in the brain that can cause brain damage

Cesarean section

Uncontrolled gestational diabetes can cause high blood sugar in the fetus, which results in excess growth. A large baby can increase discomfort for the parent during the last few months of pregnancy and cause problems during delivery.

Consequently, the pregnant person may need a cesarean, or C-section. This type of delivery requires a longer recovery period than a vaginal delivery.

Type 2 diabetes

After giving birth, blood sugar levels typically return to normal. However, approximately 50% of women with gestational diabetes later develop type 2 diabetes.

Stillbirth or miscarriage

High blood glucose increases the risk of miscarriage and stillbirth.

Untreated gestational diabetes can also have risks for the infant. They include:

Low blood sugar

If the pregnant person’s diabetes is not under control, after birth, the baby may quickly develop low blood sugar.

Nerve damage

When a C-section is necessary, the procedure may cause nerve damage in the baby from pressure on the shoulder during delivery.

Early birth

High blood pressure in the pregnant individual may result in the baby’s early birth. This can cause breathing problems and other conditions.

Development of overweight and type 2 diabetes

High blood sugar during pregnancy raises the likelihood of these conditions later in life.

Because being overweight can increase the risk of gestational diabetes, losing excess weight before becoming pregnant can help prevent it. This can also promote better blood sugar levels.

After a person becomes pregnant, they should not try to lose weight. That said, gaining excess weight too rapidly during this time can raise the risk of the condition. A person should ask their doctor how much weight gain and exercise is advisable for them if they are pregnant.

Treatment for many people can involve eating a healthy diet and engaging in regular physical activity. An individual’s healthcare team can develop a plan that includes:

  • what foods to eat
  • when to eat them
  • what amounts to eat

Regular physical activity fosters blood sugar control and helps reduce the risk of having type 2 diabetes later. People should talk with a doctor about what type and how much exercise is safe for them during pregnancy.

When diet and physical activity do not regulate blood sugar well, insulin may be necessary. Insulin shots do not have side effects that will harm the fetus, and they are usually the first-line medication for gestational diabetes.

Doctors most frequently test for the condition between the 24th and 28th week of pregnancy. If an individual’s doctor has not mentioned it, they should ask about the test.

Additionally, if someone experiences symptoms, such as increased thirst or urination before this time, they should notify their doctor. Diagnosis and management can increase the chances of a safe pregnancy and healthy baby.

Untreated gestational diabetes usually does not manifest symptoms. However, it can cause risks for the birthing parent. These include preeclampsia, a C-section delivery, and early birth.

Losing excess weight and getting regular exercise before pregnancy can help prevent gestational diabetes. Treatment involves regular exercise and healthy eating. However, some people may need insulin shots.