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Gestational Diabetes and Increased Risk of Childhood Obesity

Children exposed to uncontrolled gestational diabetes in the womb are at high risk of developing childhood obesity. Learn more about gestational diabetes.

Left untreated, gestational diabetes increases the risk of childhood obesity

Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes which occurs in a pregnant woman who did not have diabetes before she was pregnant. In an expectant mother with gestational diabetes, the body does not produce adequate amounts of insulin to regulate blood sugar. Doctors usually test for gestational diabetes between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy. However, women who have had diabetes in a previous pregnancy, are over the age of 35, overweight, or those who have a family history of diabetes may be tested earlier and more often.

What are some of the risks associated with gestational diabetes?

If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, it is important to work with your physician to control your blood sugar. Often, gestational diabetes can be controlled with changes in your diet and regular exercise. Sometimes, however, a woman with gestational diabetes must also take medication which can be oral or may require insulin injections.  Maintaining normal sugar levels in pregnancy is important because high sugars in mothers can result in very low sugars for the newborn at birth.

Uncontrolled gestational diabetes can lead to increased risk of pregnancy complications, such as:

  • A large baby
  • Premature delivery
  • Increased chance of cesarean delivery
  • Higher risk of preeclampsia
  • Slightly increased risk of fetal and neonatal death

Gestational diabetes and childhood obesity

The health risks associated with uncontrolled gestational diabetes go beyond pregnancy and the birth of your baby. Studies have shown that babies exposed to gestational diabetes in the womb are at high risk of developing health problems such as obesity and abnormal blood sugars even as children. When gestational diabetes is not well managed, a baby’s blood sugar can also be high. The baby becomes “overfed” and potentially predisposed to becoming obese. Infants born to mothers with untreated or uncontrolled gestational diabetes have nearly double the normal risk of becoming obese during childhood. The good news is that controlling blood sugar also normalizes risk. When gestational diabetes is well managed and blood sugar is controlled, the baby’s risk for childhood obesity is the same as children born to mothers with normal blood sugar.

For most women, gestational diabetes doesn’t cause noticeable signs or symptoms, so it is important to get regular prenatal care to keep you and your baby healthy during pregnancy.

UCR Women’s Health physicians provide compassionate, sensitive care for every stage of a woman’s life.

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