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Major study finds gestational diabetes linked to worse infant outcomes

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Babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes are at increased risk of dying and health complications, according to one of the largest studies of its kind.

The research covered nearly 800,000 births in France and is published in Diabetologia, the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes.

“Most of the risks are higher in women with insulin-treated gestational diabetes”

Study authors

While previous studies have looked at the link between gestational diabetes and adverse outcomes for babies, research on such a large, national scale as the new one is rare.

The team of French researchers looked at data on all of the 796,346 deliveries that took place after 22 weeks in France in 2012.

They found an increased risk of various complications for mothers with gestational diabetes including a 70% increased risk of pre-eclampsia or eclampsia and a 30% increased risk of babies being born pre-term.

Mothers with gestational diabetes were more likely to have a Caesarean section and there was an 80% increased risk of babies being significantly larger than average.

The team found a 10% increased risk of babies suffering respiratory distress, 30% increased risk of injuries to the child during birth, and a 30% increased risk of heart defects.

“The overall risk of complications during pregnancy for these women is relatively low”

Emily Burns

However, they found most of the risks were higher in women with gestational diabetes needing insulin treatment.

When the team focused their analysis on normal-term deliveries at 37 weeks, they found an increased risk of death among babies born to mums with gestational diabetes.

When they excluded women with undiagnosed type 2 diabetes before pregnancy, they found the moderately increased risk of a newborn dying was limited to mothers whose gestational diabetes was being treated simply with changes to diet.

This could be because women with diet-treated gestational diabetes tended to give birth later than those treated with insulin, meaning the unborn child was exposed to higher glucose levels for longer, suggested the researchers.

They said their findings could be a valuable contribution to the debate on when to deliver babies whose mums have gestational diabetes.

“We have clearly demonstrated that gestational diabetes is a disease related to adverse pregnancy outcomes and that most of the risks are higher in women with insulin-treated gestational diabetes,” concluded the study authors.

“By restricting analysis to deliveries after 37 weeks and excluding cases of type 2 diabetes that were undiagnosed before pregnancy, we identified a moderate increase in risk of death to the newborn baby in women with gestational diabetes treated with diet only,” they said.

Diabetes UK

Major study confirms risk from gestational diabetes

Emily Burns

“Although more investigation is needed, this study helps illuminate the controversy about timing of delivery in gestational diabetes pregnancy,” they added.

Commenting on the findings, the charity Diabetes UK said research of this type could help healthcare professionals tackle risks faced by women with gestational diabetes.

“The overall risk of complications during pregnancy for these women is relatively low, but we need to eliminate it completely,” said Emily Burns, the charity’s research communications manager.

She noted that Diabetes UK had committed £1m to gestational diabetes research. She added: “We recommend that all pregnant women, or those planning a pregnancy, get support from their healthcare team.”

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