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Why is Gestational Diabetes Skyrocketing?

Why is Gestational Diabetes Skyrocketing?

There is a growing maternal health crisis in the U.S., and gestational diabetes is one big culprit causing complications for moms and babies. Cases of gestational diabetes – a form of high blood sugar affecting pregnant women -- have increased an alarming 30% in the past several years, according a new report from the CDC.

Experts have previously linked the more gradual uptick in gestational diabetes cases over the past few decades to trends like increased maternal age and, prior to 2014, the growing rate of twin births. But, the new CDC analysis shows a possible new link: COVID-19.

Cases increased 13% during the first year of the pandemic alone, a much larger spike than the previous annual increases. Many people adopted a more sedentary lifestyle during the pandemic and also experienced more physical and emotional stress than previously. With much of the existing data focusing on 2020, outcomes in 2021 could get worse, as COVID and the Delta variant hit especially hard.

When you’re not pregnant, your hormones work to keep blood sugar levels in check. But during pregnancy, as those hormone levels change, it’s harder for the body to process blood sugar efficiently. Researchers don’t yet know why some women get gestational diabetes and others don’t, but excess weight before pregnancy often plays a role. Other risk factors include a family history of diabetes and having had a baby over 9 pounds. For Asian Americans, the condition is nearly twice as common, including a rate of nearly 17% for Asian Indians.

If not managed properly, gestational diabetes can lead to difficulties during labor and an increased chance of a C-section, as well as ongoing health issues in infants, including preterm birth, low birth weight and breathing difficulties. There’s also a misconception that it’s just a short-term problem, but up to 70% of mothers with gestational diabetes develop type 2 diabetes within 20 years, and their children are more likely to have type 2 diabetes, too.

For those at an average risk of gestational diabetes, you’ll do your screening test between 24 and 28 weeks. If you’re considered high risk, it would likely be much earlier in your pregnancy. But, there is a strong likelihood that there are people with prediabetes or people with undiagnosed gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy who are actually at higher risk and don’t know it. Earlier intervention and more education and awareness are key in working to improve these outcomes.

Eating healthy, exercising, and starting pregnancy at a healthy weight are your best bets to reduce your risk for gestational diabetes, but they are certainly not foolproof. Talk to your doctor about your individual risk, and how to plan for the healthiest pregnancy possible.

Victoria Bourgeois

Victoria Bourgeois, MD
Baton Rouge General Physicians - Obstetrics & 

Phone: (225) 237-1880