Symptoms of Gestational Diabetes

Pregnancy Image Gallery Birth defects, jaundice, and macrosomia are just some of the complications of gestational diabetes. Learn the symptoms, and more, of these conditions. See more pregnancy pictures.
Pregnancy Image Gallery Birth defects, jaundice, and macrosomia are just some of the complications of gestational diabetes. Learn the symptoms, and more, of these conditions. See more pregnancy pictures.
Publications International, Ltd.

While the real symptom of gestational diabetes is elevated blood sugar, there are some serious complications that can stem from the condition. Women with poorly controlled diabetes, and their infants, have an increased risk for the following conditions during pregnancy and childbirth:

Birth defects. Women who have high glucose levels during the first six to eight weeks of pregnancy are most likely to bear children with birth defects. During that time, a baby's major organs are forming. High glucose levels can interfere with healthy development and damage the fetus's heart and spinal cord, as well as bones, kidneys, and gastrointestinal system. One study found that women who failed to attain good glucose control before getting pregnant were ten times more likely to bear a child with a birth defect.


Jaundice. For some reason, babies born to women with diabetes sometimes have this yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes. Jaundice occurs when the blood contains too much bilirubin, a by-product made when red blood cells break down. Although jaundice is usually harmless and fades after a few days, a physician must monitor the condition.

Macrosomia. This condition is also known as gigantism and large-for-gestational-age infant, but you can just think of it as Really Big Baby Syndrome. Plainly stated, women with poorly controlled glucose during pregnancy often give birth to immense infants. How big? By one definition, a baby is considered abnormally large if it weighs more than 9 or 10 pounds or tips the scales at a weight higher than 90 percent of other newborns.

Apart from the fact that a large newborn can't squeeze into the darling little outfit you knitted for him (and boys are more likely to be plus size than girls), what's the big deal? Plenty.

  • The risk of stillbirth (death of a fetus in the late stages of pregnancy) increases dramatically when an infant is very heavy (10 to 12 pounds). The risk is even higher in mothers with uncontrolled diabetes.
  • Fat infants often grow up to be fat adults, with an increased risk for type 2 diabetes. (Interestingly, children with low birth weight appear to have a high risk for developing diabetes, too.)
  • During delivery, big babies have a heightened risk for a scary situation called shoulder dystocia, in which the infant's head emerges but the shoulders get stuck. Shoulder dystocia can result in serious harm to both the infant and mother.
  • Women who have large infants are twice as likely to require cesarean delivery; they also experience more birth canal injuries.
  • Moms are also more likely to experience hemorrhaging and need a blood transfusion.
  • Lugging around a heavyweight fetus can make the last months of pregnancy a backbreaking experience.

Continue to the next section for more complications related to gestational diabetes.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.


Symptoms of Gestational Diabetes Continued

There are several additional risks for diabetic women whose condition is not well managed. Here are the details.

Preeclampsia. About eight percent of all expectant mothers develop high blood pressure, edema (fluid retention), and elevated levels of protein in the urine sometime after the 20th week of pregnancy. Having diabetes is one of several factors that seems to increase the risk for preeclampsia, though its exact cause is not known. Symptoms include


  • swollen hands and face (especially upon rising)
  • weight gain
  • headaches
  • low output of urine
  • nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain
  • visual disturbances, such as bright flashes in the eyes

A doctor confirms a diagnosis of preeclampsia with blood, urine, and liver tests. The only known cure for the condition is for the expectant mother to deliver the baby. In serious cases, labor may be induced. Hospitalization is usually necessary.

Polyhydramnios. A fancy way of saying excess amniotic fluid around the baby, which can lead to several complications, including preterm delivery.

Postnatal hypoglycemia. A fetus receives oxygen from the mother's blood, which passes through the placenta, an organ attached to the lining of the uterus. Nutrients, including glucose, pass through the placenta, too. If a mother's blood sugar is high, the fetus' will be, too. That explains why babies born to women with high glucose get so fat. But it also means that the developing infant's pancreas will produce lots of insulin to process all that sugar. If the baby's pancreas fails to slow down insulin production after birth, hypoglycemia is a risk.

Preterm delivery. Some complications from elevated glucose during pregnancy can induce early delivery. Premature babies have a higher risk for breathing and heart problems, brain hemorrhages, gastrointestinal difficulties, and poor vision.


Timothy Gower is a freelance writer and the author of several books. His work has appeared in many magazines and newspapers, including Prevention, Health, Reader's Digest, Better Homes and Gardens, Men's Health, Esquire, Fortune, The New York Times, and The Los Angeles Times.


Dana Armstrong, R.D., C.D.E., received her degree in nutrition and dietetics from the University of California, Davis, and completed her dietetic internship at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. She has developed educational programs that have benefited more than 5,000 patients with diabetes. She specializes in and speaks nationally on approaches to disease treatment, specifically diabetes.

Allen Bennett King, M.D., F.A.C.P., F.A.C.E., C.D.E. is the author of more than 50 papers in medical science and speaks nationally on new advances in diabetes. He is an associate clinical professor at the University of California Natividad Medical Center and cofounder and medical director of the Diabetes Care Center in Salinas, California.



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