Diabetes and Pregnancy

A picture of a mom and her newborn in the hospital.

Gestational Diabetes

During pregnancy, the placenta produces a hormone that interferes with how the body uses insulin. This can lead to a buildup of sugar in your blood and, if unchecked, will cause gestational diabetes. This occurs in approximately 2-7 percent of expectant mothers.

While gestational diabetes does not cause the kinds of birth defects sometimes seen in babies whose mothers had diabetes before pregnancy, if untreated it can lead to macrosomia, or a “fat” baby. Large babies can be difficult to deliver and macrosomia can affect the baby’s health later in life. Gestational diabetes has also been shown to lead to babies born with low blood sugar, yellowish skin and eyes (jaundice) and breathing problems.

Ongoing monitoring of blood glucose along with a treatment plan is necessary to keep you and your baby healthy. Most women with gestational diabetes don’t remain diabetic once the baby is born. However, once you’ve had it, you’re at higher risk for getting it again during a future pregnancy and for developing diabetes later in life. Maintaining a healthy weight and regular exercise can reduce this risk.

Risk Factors

You are at increased risk of developing gestational diabetes if you:

  • Were overweight before you got pregnant

  • Are of African-American, Asian, Hispanic or Native American descent

  • Have prediabetes

  • Have a family history of diabetes

  • Been diagnosed with gestational diabetes previously


Much like Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, the symptoms of gestational diabetes tend to be mild and can be easily overlooked – they also mimic common side effects of pregnancy.

Symptoms include:

  • Increased thirst

  • Frequent urination

  • Increased hunger

  • Blurred vision

Doctors will typically test for gestational diabetes between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy – earlier if you have any of the risk factors outlined above.

Expert Care

If you have diabetes and are considering becoming pregnant, or if you develop diabetes during pregnancy, Ascension Columbia St. Mary’s can provide the help you need. Ascension Columbia St. Mary’s Diabetes & Pregnancy Services will help you learn how to effectively manage your diabetes. By maintaining tight control of your blood sugars, you will minimize the risk of developing any diabetes-related health problems for you and your baby.

Diabetes Before Pregnancy

If you’re a woman with diabetes before becoming pregnant, the key to a healthy pregnancy is to keep your blood sugar level as close to normal as possible. Because the early weeks of pregnancy are so important to your baby, your diabetes should be under control three to six months before you become pregnant.

As your pregnancy progresses, monitoring your diabetes will require more work. Changes in your body can make symptoms of low blood glucose harder to detect. However, by maintaining your target blood glucose and with good prenatal medical care, your chances of a trouble-free pregnancy and a healthy baby are almost as good as they are for a woman without diabetes.

The Importance of Prenatal Care

Whether you had diabetes prior to becoming pregnant or you developed gestational diabetes, it’s appropriate for your doctor to order special tests during your pregnancy to be sure the baby is developing properly.

Special tests can be done at Ascension Columbia St. Mary’s Perinatal Assessment Center (PAC)/Diabetes Treatment Center and may include fetal heart monitoring and periodic ultrasounds. The PAC also provides access to the following physicians and support services for you and your doctor:

  • A perinatologist who is a doctor trained to care for high-risk pregnant women.

  • A neonatologist who is a doctor for newborn babies trained to handle special problems.

  • A registered nurse who specializes in the care of women with high-risk pregnancies.

In addition to the PAC, Ascension Columbia St. Mary’s has a high-risk Antepartum and Labor & Delivery units, as well as a level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit designed to handle the most difficult and high-risk deliveries.

Additional services offered through our Diabetes Treatment Center include:

  • A registered dietitian who can adjust your meal plan as your needs change during and after pregnancy.

  • A diabetes educator who can teach you how to test your glucose and balance your medication, exercise and food during pregnancy.


During the last trimester of your pregnancy, and depending on the level of blood glucose control, your doctor may monitor your baby more intensively. You might also be asked to count the baby’s movements and to alert your doctor if you sense that your baby is less active.

As you near your due date, your doctor will closely monitor the size of your baby to determine if early inducement or perhaps a Cesarean section is necessary.

To help you prepare for labor and the birth of your baby, Ascension Columbia St. Mary’s offers birthing classes, breastfeeding consultants and other support programs. You’ll learn what to expect during delivery, how to reduce pain during labor, and how to care for your baby after birth.

View our class offerings.

After Delivery

After your baby arrives, your body begins to recover from the hard work of pregnancy and delivery. Some new mothers have better blood glucose control in the first few weeks after delivery. For some, it’s a period of odd blood glucose swings. It’s important to check your blood glucose often during this time to make appropriate changes to your medication and meal plan.

Just as your body is recovering, so is your baby’s body. Shortly after delivery, your baby’s blood sugar level will be tested by taking a drop of blood from the heel. If the baby has low blood sugar, it will be important to feed him as soon as possible. In addition, your baby may be at high-risk for jaundice.

Later in life, your child will have a higher chance of experiencing childhood and adult obesity and of developing diabetes. Therefore, you’ll want to inform your child’s doctor that you had diabetes or gestational diabetes during your pregnancy. It’s also important to provide your child with a balanced diet and encourage physical activity and a normal weight.

Services offered at our Center are available for all women in Southeastern Wisconsin and surrounding communities. Appointments are by physician referral. For more information, please call the Perinatal Assessment Center at 414-585-1714.

Ascension Columbia St. Mary's Women's Hospital
Perinatal Assessment Center

2323 N. Lake Drive
Milwaukee, WI 53211



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