Women with previous gestational diabetes (GDM) are a high-risk group for future development of diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and cardiovascular disease. The new International Association of Diabetes in Pregnancy Study Groups (IADPSG) criteria significantly increase the number of women diagnosed with GDM. The long-term metabolic outcome in these women is unknown. We set out to determine the prevalence of metabolic syndrome, using adult treatment panel-III criteria; and insulin resistance, using HOMA2-IR, in white European women with previous GDM. Using a cohort design, we invited women meeting IADPSG GDM criteria across four Irish antenatal centres between 2007 and 2010 to participate. Two hundred and sixty-five women with previous values meeting IADPSG criteria for GDM participated (44 % of the population eligible for participation). Mean age was 36.7 years (SD 5.0). These women were compared with a randomly selected control group of 378 women (mean age 37.6 years, SD 5.1) known to have normal glucose tolerance (NGT) in pregnancy during the same period. A total of 25.3 % of women with previous IADPSG-defined GDM met metabolic syndrome criteria, compared to 6.6 % of women with NGT [at 2.6 (SD 1.0) vs. 3.3 years (SD 0.7) post-partum]. The prevalence of HOMA2-IR >1.8 was higher in women with previous IADPSG-defined GDM (33.6 vs. 9.1 % with NGT, p < 0.001). Women with previous GDM by IADPSG criteria demonstrate a greater than threefold prevalence of metabolic syndrome compared to women with NGT in pregnancy. Efforts to prevent projected long-term consequences of this should focus on interventions both in the preconception and post-partum periods.