Gestational Diabetes: More Women Impacted and at Risk of Birth Complications

3 min read

Mother holds pregnant belly

Despite tests for gestational diabetes becoming routine for many pregnant women, some parents may still not understand the impacts the disease may have on both mother and child.

Unfortunately, gestational diabetes rates have skyrocketed in recent years. In a 2021 study published in JAMA, researchers found that gestational diabetes rates increased from about 4.8% to about 6.4% of live births per 1,000 between 2011 and 2019. While rates increased for all racial groups, the study found that women of color are still at higher risk than others.

Sadiya Khan, a cardiologist and epidemiologist involved in the JAMA study, told The Washington Post that, “the increase is striking and alarming,” and that rates could continue rising with a jump to 7.8% of live births in 2020.

With such a large increase in gestational diabetes diagnoses, it’s important for expectant parents to know the risk factors, the impacts this condition can have on their baby — including increased risk of birth injury and cerebral palsy — and ways to reduce the risks of serious complications.

What Is Gestational Diabetes?

Also known as maternal diabetes, gestational diabetes occurs when pregnant women develop diabetes, especially during the later stages of pregnancy.

Just like diabetes, gestational diabetes causes a build-up of glucose in the blood. This happens because the body may be unable to make or use all of the insulin needed to convert glucose into energy.

What Are the Risk Factors for Gestational Diabetes?

Although even a healthy pregnancy may involve a variety of temporary illnesses, gestational diabetes has several risk factors to be aware of. Be sure to discuss these with your doctor if you have questions about any of them.

Common risk factors for gestational diabetes include:

  • Being overweight or gaining significant weight during pregnancy
  • Being over the age of 25
  • Having developed gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy
  • Having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • Having a family history of diabetes

It’s important to note that some women may still develop gestational diabetes even if they do not have any of these risk factors. Additionally, symptoms of gestational diabetes may not develop or may go undetected since they can be mistaken for typical pregnancy symptoms such as fatigue.

How Do You Know If You Have Gestational Diabetes?

The best way to determine whether a pregnant woman has gestational diabetes is to undergo blood sugar testing. These tests are administered by a doctor and involve the expectant mother drinking a glucose solution under supervision.

An hour after drinking the solution, the doctor will test the woman’s blood sugar levels. Gestational diabetes is confirmed if glucose in the blood remains high.

Fortunately, there are ways expectant mothers diagnosed with gestational diabetes can reduce the risks of complications, including following a healthy eating plan, exercising regularly, and taking medication if necessary.

How Harmful Is Gestational Diabetes to the Mother?

Many expectant parents may not understand the risks associated with gestational diabetes.
When health care offices are overwhelmed with appointments, it can lead lead to pregnant women being rushed through blood sugar tests and other check-ups without having the time to fully understand the information they’re being given.

Pregnant women with gestational diabetes may experience:

  • Early or premature delivery, which puts them at higher risk of birth complications
  • Cesarean section (C-section) delivery, another common risk factor for birth complications
  • Preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy) that, if left untreated, could cause serious complications and even death
  • Stroke
  • Type 2 diabetes

About half of women with gestational diabetes will develop type 2 diabetes later in life, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

How Harmful Is Gestational Diabetes to the Baby?

As a result of gestational diabetes, some babies may grow too large to safely pass through their mother’s birth canal, which puts them at risk of complicated deliveries, birth injuries, and even type 2 diabetes later in life.

Cerebral palsy, for example, is a neurological condition linked to gestational diabetes. The disorder is often caused by a lack of oxygen in the brain during and following delivery. Children who develop cerebral palsy may need to undergo costly physical therapy and treatment for the rest of their lives.

Another condition linked to gestational diabetes is Erb’s palsy. If a baby grows too large by the time of delivery, their arm or shoulder may get stuck in the birth canal. Doctors may damage the child’s brachial plexus nerves when using too much force with forceps or vacuum extractions. This nerve damage is what causes Erb’s palsy.

Coping With Gestational Diabetes and Birth Injuries

Expecting and new mothers are under tremendous stress, especially if they’ve experienced gestational diabetes and resulting birth injuries.

The team at the Child Birth Injury Justice Center is here for you and your family.

Whether you have been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, or your child has developed cerebral palsy or Erb’s palsy as a result of birth complications, we can help you find the resources you need.

Call us at (800) 914-1562 today to get started.

Birth Injury Support Team

The Birth Injury Justice Center was founded in 2003 by a team of legal professionals to educate and empower victims and families affected by birth injuries. Our team is devoted to providing you with the best resources and legal information for all types of birth injuries.

View Sources
  1. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). “Gestational Diabetes.” Retrieved from: Accessed on February 21, 2023.
  2. Shah N.S., Wang M.C., Freaney P.M., et al. (2021). “Trends in Gestational Diabetes at First Live Birth by Race and Ethnicity in the US, 2011-2019.” JAMA. Retrieved from: Accessed on February 21, 2023.
  3. Washington Post. (2022). “Gestational diabetes during pregnancy is rising. Experts are alarmed.” Retrieved from: Accessed on February 21, 2023.