Gestational Diabetes and Postpartum Depression

Close-up Of Pregnant African American Woman Monitoring Her Blood Glucose

Having gestational diabetes increases your risk of type 2 diabetes and may increase your risk of postpartum depression.

Did you know gestational diabetes can affect you even after pregnancy? Having gestational diabetes increases your risk of type 2 diabetes and may increase your risk of postpartum depression. The good news is there are ways to help lower your risk for both.

When you’re pregnant, your body goes through many changes—from belly size to hormones. One important hormone that’s affected is insulin. During pregnancy your body makes several hormones to keep your baby healthy and growing. These hormones can cause your body’s cells to use insulin less effectively, a condition called insulin resistance.

During late pregnancy, insulin resistance increases a lot. This can cause some women to develop a type of diabetes called gestational diabetes. And having gestational diabetes can put you at higher risk of postpartum depression.

What Is Gestational Diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that can develop during pregnancy in women who don’t already have diabetes. It develops in about 2% to 10% of pregnancies in the United States every year. You’re at higher risk of developing gestational diabetes if you had it during a previous pregnancy, have a family history of type 2 diabetes, or have prediabetes before pregnancy. You’re also at higher risk if your race or ethnic origin is Asian, African American, Hispanic or Latino, American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander.

Gestational diabetes typically doesn’t have any symptoms. It’s important to let your doctor know if you have any risk factors that may put you at higher risk of gestational diabetes.

Having gestational diabetes increases your baby’s risk of being very large (9 pounds or more), as well as your risk of having a cesarean delivery (C-section) and of developing type 2 diabetes in the future. Some research has found that having gestational diabetes can also increase your risk of postpartum depression.

What Is Postpartum Depression?

Postpartum depression is more than having the “baby blues”—feelings of worry, sadness, and tiredness many women experience after having a baby. Postpartum depression includes intense symptoms of sadness, anxiety, and hopelessness that can occur up to a year after birth. It could affect your ability to care for your baby and handle daily life activities.

Around 1 in 8 women have symptoms of depression after giving birth. Depression can also occur before and during pregnancy. Yet less than half of pregnant women with depression receive the treatment they need. Some research shows that roughly 30% of women were not asked about symptoms of depression during a prenatal or postpartum health care visit.

If you have depression before, during, or after pregnancy, talk to your doctor about your symptoms. Even if they don’t ask or you think your symptoms aren’t serious enough, talk to your doctor anyway. They can monitor your symptoms and help you manage them, so they don’t get worse.

It’s important for you to know that having postpartum depression doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong. It’s a complication of giving birth and needs to be treated like any other medical complication. There are several treatment options and resources to help you manage your symptoms. Getting the right treatment will help you take care of yourself and your baby.

What’s the Connection?

It’s not clearly understood why people with diabetes, including gestational diabetes, are at higher risk of depression. Research has found that it could be mental, physical, or a combination of factors. Here’s what we know:

Managing gestational diabetes can be a major source of stress for some pregnant women, and stress itself could be a risk factor for postpartum depression. The daily challenges of managing diabetes can bring on symptoms of depression and anxiety. In fact, people with diabetes are 2 to 3 times more likely to have depression than people without diabetes. And they’re also 20% more likely than people without diabetes to have anxiety.

Diabetes also directly affects the brain. Insulin resistance in the brain affects your body’s stress response system. Your system responds to stress by releasing hormones into the blood to help protect you from stress. If your system is impaired, your body can’t respond properly to stress. This can lead to symptoms of depression.

How Can I Prevent or Manage Gestational Diabetes?

Gestational diabetes can’t always be prevented. But with healthy lifestyle habits you can lower your risk or manage it if you’ve already been diagnosed. You can:

  • Follow a healthy eating plan. A healthy meal plan will help you know when, what, and how much to eat to get the nutrition you need while keeping your blood sugar levels in a healthy range. Work with a doctor or dietitian to help create a plan that’s right for you.
  • Get regular physical activity. Being physically active helps lower your blood sugar and makes you more sensitive to insulin, so your body won’t need as much. Physical activity can also help relieve stress, boost your mood, and keep your heart healthy. Make sure to check with your doctor about what kind of physical activities you can do while pregnant and ones you should avoid.
  • Take medicine as prescribed. If you have gestational diabetes, your doctor may prescribe medicine. Make sure to take your medicine as prescribed to help manage your health and the health of your baby. If you’re planning on becoming pregnant and take medicine for other health conditions, make sure to talk to your doctor. You can work together to find a treatment plan that keeps you healthy for pregnancy.
  • Aim for a healthy weight. If you’re planning on becoming pregnant and have overweight or obesity, you can lower your risk of gestational diabetes by reaching a healthy weight. If you’re pregnant, don’t try to lose weight. You may need to gain some weight for your baby. Ask your doctor how much weight gain during pregnancy is right for you.
  • Manage stress. If you’re stressed, you may not take as good care of yourself as usual. Stress can also raise your blood sugar and lead to other health problems. Ask a doctor or mental health professional for help managing stress.

I Gave Birth, Now What?

Once you’ve given birth, it’s important to see your doctor for routine postpartum checkups. Women who had gestational diabetes are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes after giving birth. The good news is you can reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes. It’s important to get tested for diabetes 6 to 12 weeks after your baby is born. If you don’t have diabetes at that time, continue to get tested every 1 to 3 years to make sure your blood sugar levels are in a healthy range. It’s also important for you to get screened for postpartum depression at each of your postpartum health care visits. If you think you have depression, seek treatment as soon as possible.