How does the gestational diabetes affect the baby?

To protect themselves and their babies from the negative effects of the gestational diabetes, the future mothers should take regular blood tests to check their blood sugar level. The normal blood sugar level is under 105 mg per dL when the test is made after a few hours of fasting and less than 120 mg per dL when taken after 2 hours after a meal.



Why is it important to keep the blood sugar level under watch during the pregnancy?

The blood sugar tests taken regularly can identify the presence of gestational diabetes. This unpleasant condition can have several negative effects for the baby and for the mother, as well.

How does the gestational diabetes affect the baby?

Several complications are associated with the gestational diabetes, including macrosomia, early birth, respiratory distress syndrome, hyperbilirubinaemia, hypocalcaemia and polycythaemia.

Macrosomia or excessive birth weight.  In gestational diabetes, the insulin does not cross the placenta, but the glucose does, leading to high blood glucose levels for the baby. The baby gets more energy than it needs, so the extra energy is stored as fat, causing the baby to grow too large (9 pounds or more). This condition is called “macrosomia”. A child affected by macrosomia can have breathing problems at birth and hypoglycemia.

Preterm birth. High blood sugar levels may increase the risk of delivering a baby before the 37-th week of gestation. The reasons why preterm birth (spontaneous labor, premature rupture of membranes and/or cervical incompetence) occurs is still unexplained, but several studies have shown that the early birth is associated with the existence of the gestational diabetes.

Respiratory distress syndrome. Babies who are delivered before their due date may have lungs which are not mature enough to make the respiratory process possible, so they need help breathing until their lungs becomestronger.

Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia).  It is possible that shortly after birth some babies of mothers with gestational diabetes develop low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). Usually, these babies have increased insulin levels in their blood, so their blood sugar level can get really low shortly after birth. Severe episodes of hypoglycemia may lead to seizures in the baby, so the blood sugar levels have to be closely monitored in the first 12 to 24 hours of life. Prompt feedings and sometimes an intravenous glucose solution can return the baby’s blood sugar level to normal.

Hyperbilirubinaemia. Bilirubin is a substance which normally forms when the body recycles old or damaged red blood cells. When the baby’s liver isn’t mature enough to break down the bilirubin, large amounts of this substance can circulate to tissues in the brain and may cause seizures and brain damage. This is a condition called kernicterus. The yellowish color of the skin and of the whites of the eyes get is a sign of hyperbilirubinaemia. Gestational diabetes may be associated with hyperbilirubinaemia.

Hypocalcemia.  After birth, a baby born by a mother with gestational diabetes may lose a lot of magnesium through urine, which blunts parathyroid hormone secretion, causing neonatal hypocalcemia.

Type 2 diabetes later in life. Babies of mothers who have gestational diabetes present a higher risk of developing obesity and type 2 diabetes later in life.


Read more:

  • Widness JA-“ Fetal risks and neonatal complications of diabetes mellitus and metabolic and endocrine disorders”, Appleton-Lang; 1989;
  • Kim C, Newton R, Knopp R. Gestational diabetes and the incidence of type 2 diabetes: a systematic review. Diabetes Care 2002;
  • Romon M, Nuttens MC, Vambergue A, et al. Higher carbohydrate intake is associated with decreased incidence of newborn macrosomia in women with gestational diabetes. J Am Diet Assoc 2001;

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