During 2014–2015, more than 45,000 mothers who gave birth in Australia (excluding Victoria) had diabetes, representing about 9.9% of all births recorded in the National Perinatal Data Collection (NPDC).

So, what is diabetes in pregnancy and what impact does it have?

Here’s what you need to know.

What is diabetes in pregnancy?

There are two types of diabetes that a woman can contract during pregnancy; type one and type two. Diabetes in pregnancy can either be pre-existing or might arise as a result of the pregnancy, otherwise known as gestational diabetes.

Type one diabetes is an unpreventable autoimmune disease which destroys the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. Women with type one diabetes should try to strictly control blood glucose levels before and during pregnancy.

Type two diabetes is largely preventable and is associated with factors including exercise, poor diet or being overweight. Type two diabetes is the most common form of diabetes in Australia. Similar to type one diabetes, women with type two diabetes should strictly control blood glucose levels before and after pregnancy.

On the other hand, gestational diabetes is the natural development of insulin resistance due to an increase in hormones and other pregnancy related factors. This can be managed by changes to diet and exercise, however some cases may require further treatment.

What impact does it have?

Diabetes in pregnancy can be dangerous for both mother and baby, posing short and long-term effects. Complications differ between the types of diabetes due to the different causes and effects of each type.

Women with gestational diabetes contract maternal hyperglycaemia, which results in excessive blood glucose being transferred to the foetus. This results in the baby producing excessive amounts of insulin, stimulating fetal growth and resulting in a series of complications.

Women with pre-existing diabetes (type one or two) may risk accelerating already existing diabetic conditions through pregnancy. In terms of the baby, this means there is an increased chance in a range of conditions including still birth and hypoglycaemia.

Interestingly, studies have shown that women with pre-existing diabetes are more likely to be adversely affected during pregnancy than those who develop gestational diabetes.