Gestational Diabetes Risk Factors

Rebecca McPhee
Dietitian Member of the DAA

3 Minutes

It would be nice to imagine that there is such a thing as a perfect pregnancy. You only have to experience morning sickness or fertility treatment (or speak to someone who has) to know that the pregnancy journey is not all rainbows and butterflies! Even for the most motivated or planned woman, the journey is not always smooth sailing.  


What is gestational diabetes?  

Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy when the hormones produced by the placenta block the action of a women's insulin in regulating blood sugar levels.  Irregular blood sugar levels can lead to some complications including early labour, bigger babies and high blood pressure for mums - among others.

Gestational diabetes usually goes away when the baby is born; however, research shows that women who have had gestational diabetes are 50% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later in life. Further, if you have gestational diabetes in your first pregnancy, you have about a 30-69% chance of It reoccuring in future pregnancies.

Fortunately, we now know more now about the risks associated with gestational diabetes than we ever have. Researchers are finding out more and more about what increases your risk and the complications for both mum and baby. Being aware of the risk factors and what you can do to prevent gestational diabetes, is a positive first step to ensuring that your pregnancy journey is a safe and healthy one.  


7 risk factors to consider 


1. Your Age – Advanced maternal age has become a growing trend in recent years for women of the western world. Research has shown women over the age of 40 are at a higher risk of gestational diabetes than younger expectant mothers.   

2.   Your Ethnic Background - Being from an Asian, Indian subcontinent, Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, Pacific Islander, Maori, Middle Eastern or non-white African background. 

3.   Your DNA - A family history of type 2 diabetes or a first-degree relative (mother or sister) who has had gestational diabetes will put you at a higher risk. Unfortunately, you can't change this, but you can limit additional factors by focusing on leading a healthy lifestyle. 

4.    Lifestyle Factors - If you are above a healthy weight range and/or gained weight too rapidly in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, this will put you at a higher risk of developing gestational diabetes. Following a healthy, balanced diet and engaging in regular physical activity are sure ways to achieve healthy body weight and reduce your risk. vii viii 

5.   Previous Diagnosis - If you have had gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy or elevated blood sugar levels in the past, studies suggest you are 30-69% more likely to be diagnosed in a future pregnancy.  

6.   Medications - Some types of antipsychotic or steroid medications can increase your risk of gestational diabetes. Be sure to ask your GP or pharmacist if you have any questions regarding the long-term effects of any medications you are currently taking.  

7.   Hormones - If you have polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), there is an increased risk that you will develop diabetes during pregnancy. PCOS is one of the most common hormonal problems in women during their reproductive years, and most cases are undiagnosed 



  • For women planning or in the early stages of pregnancy, it is important to understand  risk factors that can lead to gestational diabetes.  

  • While we can't change our genetic makeup, age (that would be nice!) or cultural background, we can change the lifestyle we choose to lead.  

  • Reaching a healthy weight, eating well and moving more, can greatly to reduce the risk of developing gestational diabetes.  

  • Practising healthy habits early on will set you and your baby up for a healthy future, including preventing lifestyle disease such as type 2 diabetes. 


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  • N Poolsup et al. Effect of Treatment of Gestational Diabetes Mellitus: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. PLoS One. 2014; 9(3): e92485. 
  • Black MH, Sacks DA, Xiang AH, Lawrence JM. The relative contribution of pre-pregnancy overweight and obesity, gestational weight gain, and IADPSG-defined gestational diabetes mellitus to fetal overgrowth. Diabetes Care. 2013; 36(1):5662.  
  • Moses RG. The recurrence rate of gestational diabetes mellitus in subsequent pregnancies. Diabetes Care 1996; 19: 1348‐1350 
  • O’Sullivan J. Diabetes Mellitus after GDM.  Diabetes 1991; 29 (Suppl.2): 131‐35  
  • Stephanie MacNeill et al. Rates and Risk Factors for Recurrence of Gestational Diabetes. Diabetes Care 2001 Apr; 24(4): 659-662. 
  • Nankervis A, McIntyre HD, Moses R, Ross GP, Callaway L, Porter C, Jeffries W,  Boorman C, De Vries B, McElduff. ADIPS Consensus Guidelines for the Testing and  Diagnosis of Gestational Diabetes Mellitus in Australia . Australasian Diabetes in Pregnancy  Society  
  • Cuilin Zhang et al. Adherence to healthy lifestyle and risk of gestational diabetes mellitus: prospective cohort study. BMJ 2014; 349 
  • Mijatovic-Vukas. J et al. Associations of Diet and Physical Activity with Risk for Gestational Diabetes Mellitus: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Nutrients 2018, 10(6), 698; 
  • Joan C Loan et al. Increased Prevelance of gestational Diabetes Mellitus Among Women With Diagnosed Polycystic Ovarian Sydnrome. A Population Based Study. Diabetes Care, Volume 29, Number 8, August 2006. 

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