What to Know About Diabetes and Pregnancy

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Diabetes, including type 1, type 2, and gestational diabetes, is associated with infertility and several pregnancy risks and complications, such as high blood pressure during pregnancy called preeclampsia and preterm labor or birth. However, there are a number of steps you can take to ensure a safe and healthy pregnancy.

Around 10.5% of the U.S. population has diabetes overall. According to the American Diabetes Association, gestational diabetes occurs in 10% of pregnancies in the United States.

Usually, there are no symptoms, and diagnosis is determined through a blood sugar test. If you develop gestational diabetes, your doctor will monitor you and your baby closely.

Pregnant woman testing blood sugar for diabetes

Guido Mieth / Getty Images

Diabetes and Fertility

Obesity, being underweight, having polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), and other complications linked to diabetes can all play a role in your ability to get pregnant. This is true for people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

One study observed that problems affecting ovulation were the main cause of infertility in people with a uterus. In particular, PCOS, which is linked to type 2 diabetes, can cause this because it affects the growth and release of the egg into the fallopian tube.

Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are also associated with irregular or missed periods, which means your ovaries do not regularly release an egg and can have an impact on one’s ability to get pregnant.

Is Diabetes Hereditary?

Diabetes can be passed down through generations. However, type 2 diabetes has a stronger link to genetics than type 1 diabetes.

Diabetes can also affect the fertility of males. The condition can cause nerve damage, which can lead to difficulty maintaining an erection and make it more difficult for intercourse and conception to happen. It can also result in retrograde or a lack of ejaculation, as well as sperm abnormalities like low motility (ability to move).

Keeping your blood glucose under control before becoming pregnant is therefore extremely important because it can help reduce fertility issues and increase your chances of conceiving and having a healthy baby.

See your doctor if you and your partner plan to become pregnant. They may want to adjust your treatment before you start trying.

Diabetes and Gestation

Whether diabetes develops during pregnancy or you already have diabetes before becoming pregnant, it can cause issues for your baby if it’s not well managed.

Risks

Uncontrolled diabetes is linked to a number of risks for you and your baby, including:

  • Preterm labor
  • High blood pressure (preeclampsia)
  • Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
  • Increased chance of a Caesarean section
  • Injury from delivering a large baby
  • Birth defects
  • Miscarriage or stillbirth

If you develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy, your blood sugar levels generally return to normal postpartum. However, as many as 50% of people with gestational diabetes go on to develop type 2 diabetes later in life.

Treatment

Treatment for diabetes is imperative before, during, and after pregnancy to mitigate any risks and complications. See your doctor early and often to catch any potential problems. Most importantly, monitor your blood sugar levels often and keep them under control.

There are many lifestyle changes you can make to manage your blood sugar:

  • Eating a healthy diet: Pay special attention to your carbohydrate intake. Whole grains, healthy fats, lean proteins, and foods low in sugar will be great additions to your diet if you don’t eat them already.
  • Getting regular exercise: Regular workouts can help fight insulin resistance. Check with your doctor first to make sure exercise is safe for you to do. Then get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity at least five days a week. This could include brisk walking, swimming, or actively playing with children.
  • Taking medications as prescribed: Keep taking insulin and medications that can help keep your blood sugar levels in a healthy range.
  • Monitoring your blood sugar regularly: Because pregnancy increases the body’s need for energy, blood sugar levels can also change very quickly. You need to check your blood sugar often. It is important to learn how to adjust food intake, exercise, and insulin depending on the results of your blood sugar tests.

Concerning Symptoms

You may have the following symptoms if you have type 1, type 2, or gestational diabetes:

  • Urinate a lot, often at night
  • Are very thirsty
  • Lose weight without trying
  • Are very hungry
  • Have blurry vision
  • Have numb or tingling hands or feet
  • Feel very tired
  • Have very dry skin
  • Have sores that heal slowly
  • Have more infections than usual

Talk to your doctor as soon as possible if you experience any of these symptoms.

Diabetes and Postpartum

Impact on Recovery

Of those affected by gestational diabetes, around 50% go on to develop type 2 diabetes later in life. In order to reduce that risk, lifestyle changes can help.

The American Diabetes Association recommends that those with gestational diabetes get tested for prediabetes and type 2 diabetes at four to 12 weeks postpartum.

Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding can have a positive impact on diabetes postpartum. Studies have shown that your insulin sensitivity increases and glucose metabolism improves when you are breastfeeding. However, it is inconclusive whether breastfeeding truly lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes, especially after a case of gestational diabetes.

However, one study found that breastfeeding for longer than two months lowered the risk of type 2 diabetes by almost half.

If you have prediabetes, type 1, or type 2 diabetes, know that most diabetes medications, such as insulin and metformin, are safe to use while breastfeeding. Do check with your doctor about medication doses, however, since these may have to change while you are breastfeeding.

Summary

Diabetes, whether type 1 or 2, can potentially affect your ability to get pregnant. It may cause problems with ovulation or sperm quality. The condition is also associated with complications like preeclampsia and preterm birth. Working closely with your healthcare team to keep your blood sugar levels under control can help mitigate these complications. If you are breastfeeding, it may actually help improve insulin sensitivity and glucose metabolism.

A Word From Verywell

Whether you have preexisting diabetes or develop gestational diabetes during pregnancy, know that you are not alone and that your condition is incredibly common. Reaching out for support from your healthcare team, partner, and family and friends can help reduce any stress you may be experiencing due to your condition.

Early detection and regular monitoring ensure a healthy pregnancy, delivery, and postpartum life. You have more control over your condition than you may believe. If you do have any concerns about your particular situation, be open and honest with your doctor. Don’t be afraid to ask any questions or raise concerns. That’s what they’re there for.

Frequently Asked Questions

What should you eat if you have diabetes during pregnancy?

If you get diabetes during pregnancy, eating a healthy diet is imperative to its management. Whole grains, healthy fats, lean proteins, and foods low in sugar are great places to start.

How do you avoid gestational diabetes?

It’s believed that gestational diabetes is caused by both genetics and environmental factors. Some ways to help potentially prevent gestational diabetes include maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking, eating a healthy diet, and getting regular exercise.

What are the signs of gestational diabetes?

Generally, gestational diabetes is asymptomatic. However, some signs that you may have include being more hungry and thirsty than usual, increased urination, blurry vision, and weight loss.

What happens if you have gestational diabetes while pregnant?

If you develop gestational diabetes while pregnant, you’ll have to regularly monitor your blood sugar levels with a glucometer and keep it in your recommended target range to avoid complications. Your healthcare team may also follow-up with you more closely to monitor your condition.

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Article Sources
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