Gestational Diabetes Treatment

Rebecca McPhee
Dietitian Member of the DAA

3 Minutes

Being diagnosed with gestational diabetes is not all doom and gloom. It is an opportunity to spring clean your lifestyle and make long terms changes for you and your baby's health. But what is the treatment for gestational diabetes? What steps can you take? How do you know if the treatment is working?  

What is gestational diabetes?  

Gestational diabetes (sometimes called GDM) 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 a 30-69% chance of it recurring in future pregnancies.

In most cases, the treatment of gestational diabetes involves changes in lifestyle to incorporate healthy eating and exercise. In other cases, medication may be prescribed to help manage help regulate sugar levels.

1. Diet plans with gestational diabetes  

Healthy eating is essential to help keep your blood sugar levels within the target range, to provide all the nutritional benefits needed during pregnancy and to maintain a healthy weight gain.  

Eating well when you are diagnosed or at risk of gestational diabetes means choosing the right type and amount of carbohydrate foods, limiting foods high in saturated fat, and eating a variety of nutrient-dense foods like fruit and vegetables.   

2. Exercise for gestational diabetes 

Unless you have been told not to exercise by your healthcare team, regular moderate-intensity exercise is beneficial for you, your baby and gestational diabetes. In a nutshell, exercise helps reduce blood sugar levels meaning you're more likely to keep your levels within the safe range. There are plenty of pregnancy-safe activities, you can try to help keep you fit and healthy for birth, and when carrying around a newborn. 

3. Medication for gestational diabetes 

In some circumstances, healthy eating and exercise alone are not enough to keep blood sugar levels within the target range. In this case, your doctor or diabetes educator may talk to you about maintaining healthy lifestyle habits as well as starting medication to help better manage your blood sugar levels.  

Women with gestational diabetes may be prescribed Metformin which is an oral medication that helps lower the amount of sugar produced in the liver and increases the sensitivity of cells to insulin – ultimately lowering blood sugar levels to a healthy range.  

4. Insulin for gestational diabetes 

In 32% of cases insulin will be required during pregnancy to keep blood sugar levels within a healthy range. In Canberra, rates are higher with 40% of women with gestational diabetes requiring insulin.

This requires injections usually administered through a pen device, which is easy to use and safe for both you and your baby. Your diabetes educator or doctor will support you to manage your blood sugar levels using insulin.   

5. Monitoring blood sugar levels  

Blood sugar monitoring is a crucial part of managing gestational diabetes. With awareness of your levels, you can adjust to ensure your treatment is working to keep them within the target range.  

Your diabetes educator or doctor will spend time teaching you about your targets blood sugar levels and how to take them. In most cases, this is a simple pinprick test which involves drawing a small droplet of blood an inserting into a testing machine.  

Regularly checking your blood sugar levels will help you to understand what affects them, including food, exercise, medication and stress.  


  • The treatment for gestational diabetes varies among women.  

  • Healthy eating and exercise may be the only treatment needed.  

  • Some women benefit from oral medication. 

  • 32% of women will need insulin injections.  In Canberra, rates are up to 40% 

  • Regular blood sugar monitoring is a crucial part of managing gestational diabetes. 

While a diagnosis of gestational diabetes may be daunting, research has come a long way in identifying treatment options available. The most important thing is to be tested so you can make pro-active choices about how to manage your condition to ensure the health of you and your baby both during pregnancy and beyond.  

Don't forget, your new healthy habits such as eating well, and exercising regularly will put you in good stead for losing your post-baby weight and reducing the risk of lifestyle diseases in the future such as type 2 diabetes.  

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  • O’Sullivan J. Diabetes Mellitus after GDM.  Diabetes 1991; 29 (Suppl.2): 131‐35 
  • Moses RG. The recurrence rate of gestational diabetes mellitus in subsequent  pregnancies. Diabetes Care 1996; 19: 1348‐1350
  • Stephanie MacNeill et al. Rates and Risk Factors for Recurrence of Gestational Diabetes. Diabetes Care 2001 Apr; 24(4): 659-662.
  • 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;
  • Ming et al. 2018 The effect of exercise during pregnancy on gestational diabetes mellitus in normal-weight women: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth  (2018) 18:440
  • 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 



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