How Is Gestational Diabetes Different From Other Types of Diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is diabetes that only occurs during pregnancy. Learn how it differs from type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

There are three main types of diabetes: type 1, type 2 and gestational (diabetes that occurs with pregnancy).

Type 1 and type 2 diabetes cannot be cured. Once you have diabetes, you have to treat it for life. But gestational diabetes often only lasts during pregnancy, and it typically goes away once the baby is born. But after you’ve had gestational diabetes, your chance of getting diabetes in future pregnancies – and type 2 diabetes later in life – goes up.

Diabetes 101
Diabetes occurs when there is not enough insulin, or the insulin doesn’t work right in your body. Insulin is a hormone that’s made by the pancreas. When we eat, our bodies break down food into glucose (sugar). Insulin is needed to move glucose from the blood into the cells for energy. When there is not enough insulin, or it doesn’t work properly, the glucose stays in the blood.

Types of diabetes
In type 1 diabetes,
the pancreas makes too little insulin because the body’s immune system destroys a special type of cell in the pancreas that produces insulin. In time, the cells stop making insulin entirely. People with type 1 diabetes need to watch what they eat, get exercise, monitor their blood sugar levels and take insulin shots to treat this condition.

In type 2 diabetes, the body is insulin-resistant. This means insulin is made by the pancreas, but the cells in the body can’t use it the right way. People with type 2 diabetes manage their diabetes by eating well, exercising and possibly taking medicine. They also must check their blood glucose levels.

In gestational diabetes, the body is unable to make or use all the insulin it needs to support the pregnancy. Pregnancy changes how insulin works in the body, which may lead to diabetes. Experts aren’t sure why gestational diabetes happens. Some research suggests the placenta (which works to nourish the growing baby) may block how insulin works in the mother’s body. Gestational diabetes is treated with a healthy diet, exercise, good prenatal care and sometimes insulin. Often, gestational diabetes goes away after the baby is born.

Not all pregnant women with diabetes have gestational diabetes. Women with type 1 and type 2 diabetes can get pregnant, but they will still have diabetes after the baby’s birth. If you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes and want to get pregnant, see your doctor. You will need to take special precautions and need close monitoring throughout pregnancy.

Watch that blood sugar
No matter what kind of diabetes you have, it’s important to follow your diabetes care plan exactly as prescribed by your doctor. This is key because high blood sugar levels can harm your health over time. That can possibly lead to conditions like heart disease, kidney failure and blindness. During pregnancy, high blood sugar is also linked with miscarriage, birth defects and pre-term labor and delivery. Gestational diabetes can lead to macrosomia (a very large baby), preeclampsia (pregnancy induced hypertension), a higher chance of needing a Cesarean section, and problems with the newborn. These can include breathing problems, very low blood sugar, jaundice and problems with calcium and magnesium balance.