Medications for Gestational Diabetes

The information provided here is meant to give you a general idea about each of the medicines listed below. Only the most general side effects are included, so ask your doctor if you need to take any special precautions. Use each of these medicines as recommended by your doctor, or according to the instructions provided. If you have further questions about usage or side effects, contact your doctor.

Your doctor will try to control your gestational diabetes with diet and exercise. If that is not successful, you may need to take insulin or other medications to control your blood sugar levels.

Insulin Injections

Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas. Insulin’s main job is to lower blood sugar levels by facilitating the transfer of glucose from the blood to tissue cells. Gestational diabetes occurs when hormones produced during pregnancy block the effects of insulin. This blocking effect creates a condition known as insulin resistance. If diet alone does not control the blood sugar level, insulin is usually prescribed.

There are many different types of insulin that can be prescribed. Some work faster but for shorter periods of time, and others stay in the system all day. Your doctor will choose which type of insulin is correct for you to use.

Treatment aims to keep blood sugar levels within a normal range. The optimum goal for a woman with gestational diabetes is a blood sugar level of:

  • 95 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) [5.3 mmol/L] or less at fasting
  • 140 mg/dL (7.8 mmol/L) or less one hour after a meal
  • 120 mg/dL (6.7 mmol/L) or less two hours after a meal

One important part of taking care of your condition is to monitor your blood sugar levels throughout the day. If you need insulin, your doctor will work with you to calculate the right amount needed to keep blood sugar levels within a healthy range for you. This amount may increase as your pregnancy advances. Also, the dose of insulin may need to be adjusted during times of emotional or physical stress, such as having an infection or exercising a lot.

The main risk of taking insulin is that it can cause your blood sugar to go too low. This can be very dangerous. If you are taking insulin, it is important to notice any strange feelings, such as confusion, sweating, or anxiety. If you have any feelings like this, you should check your blood sugar level. If it is low, it can be increased quickly with by eating or drinking something that has plenty of sugar, like juice or regular cola.

Oral Medicines

Oral medications work in different ways depending on which type of drug they are. They are not currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for gestational diabetes, your doctor may recommend that you take oral medications to help control your blood sugar levels. Some examples of medications that may be prescribed to control your blood sugar levels include:

  • Metformin—works in the liver to lower the production of glucose and makes your body more sensitive to insulin
  • Glyburide—stimulates the body to make more insulin and helps the cells use the insulin better

Side effects of these medications include:

  • Low blood sugar symptoms:
    • Shakiness
    • Hunger
    • Irritability
    • Lightheadedness
    • Fast heartbeat
    • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stomach pain (metformin)
  • Diarrhea (metformin)
  • Loss of appetite (metformin)
  • Abnormal taste (metformin)

Special Considerations

If you are taking medications, follow these general guidelines:

  • Take your medication as directed. Do not change the amount or schedule.
  • Ask what side effects could occur. Report them to your doctor.
  • Talk to your doctor before you stop taking any prescription medication.
  • Do not share your prescription medication.
  • Medications can be dangerous when mixed. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you are taking more than one medication, including over-the-counter products and supplements.
  • Plan ahead for refills as needed.

When to Contact Your Doctor

Call your doctor right away or call for emergency medical services if you have a serious complication to the medication, such as:

  • Seizures or convulsions
  • Unconsciousness
  • Recurrent or extreme low blood sugar


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Last reviewed September 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Beverly Siegal, MD, FACOG
Last Updated: 9/17/2014

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