Recently proposed international guidelines for screening for gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) recommend additional screening in early pregnancy for sub-populations at a high risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM), such as indigenous women. However, there are criteria that should be met to ensure the benefits outweigh the risks of population-based screening. This review examines the published evidence for early screening for indigenous women as related to these criteria. Any publications were included that referred to diabetes in pregnancy among indigenous women in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States (n = 145). The risk of bias was appraised. There is sufficient evidence describing the epidemiology of diabetes in pregnancy, demonstrating that it imposes a significant disease burden on indigenous women and their infants at birth and across the lifecourse (n = 120 studies). Women with pre-existing T2DM have a higher risk than women who develop GDM during pregnancy. However, there was insufficient evidence to address the remaining five criteria, including the following: understanding current screening practice and rates (n = 7); acceptability of GDM screening (n = 0); efficacy and cost of screening for GDM (n = 3); availability of effective treatment after diagnosis (n = 6); and effective systems for follow-up after pregnancy (n = 5). Given the impact of diabetes in pregnancy, particularly undiagnosed T2DM, GDM screening in early pregnancy offers potential benefits for indigenous women. However, researchers, policy makers and clinicians must work together with communities to develop effective strategies for implementation and minimizing the potential risks. Evidence of effective strategies for primary prevention, GDM treatment and follow-up after pregnancy are urgently needed. Copyright © 2013 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.