Background Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) is a common pregnancy-specific disease and is growing at an alarming rate worldwide, which can negatively affect the health of pregnant women and fetuses. However, most studies are limited to one tissue, placenta or umbilical cord blood, usually with one omics assay. It is thus difficult to systematically reveal the molecular mechanism of GDM and the key influencing factors on pregnant women and offspring. Results We recruited a group of 21 pregnant women with GDM and 20 controls without GDM. For each pregnant woman, reduced representation bisulfite sequencing and RNA-seq were performed using the placenta and paired neonatal umbilical cord blood specimens. Differentially methylated regions (DMRs) and differentially expressed genes (DEGs) were identified with body mass index as a covariate. Through the comparison of GDM and control samples, 2779 and 141 DMRs, 1442 and 488 DEGs were identified from placenta and umbilical cord blood, respectively. Functional enrichment analysis showed that the placenta methylation and expression profiles of GDM women mirrored the molecular characteristics of “type II diabetes” and “insulin resistance.” Methylation-altered genes in umbilical cord blood were associated with pathways “type II diabetes” and “cholesterol metabolism.” Remarkably, both DMRs and DEGs illustrated significant overlaps among placenta and umbilical cord blood samples. The overlapping DMRs were associated with “cholesterol metabolism.” The top-ranking pathways enriched in the shared DEGs include “growth hormone synthesis, secretion and action” and “type II diabetes mellitus.” Conclusions Our research demonstrated the epigenetic and transcriptomic alternations of GDM women and offspring. Our findings emphasized the importance of epigenetic modifications in the communication between pregnant women with GDM and offspring, and provided a reference for the prevention, control, treatment, and intervention of perinatal deleterious events of GDM and neonatal complications. Supplementary Information The online version contains supplementary material available at 10.1186/s13148-022-01289-5.