Major health problems in babies of diabetic mothers on the rise

During the past decade, babies born to women with type 2 diabetes have shown an increasing number of serious health problems -- including stillbirth and birth defects, such as brain, spine and heart congenital malformations that can lead to infant deaths, according to a study published in the February issue of Diabetes Care.

The study, by researchers at the Department of Obstetrics in Copenhagen University Hospital, Rigshospitalet in Denmark, found that babies born to women with type 2 diabetes fared worse than those born to women with type 1 diabetes, and worse than those born to women with no diabetes at all. The problem also appears to be increasing; babies born to women with type 2 diabetes during 1996-2001 developed far more serious health problems than those born to women with type 2 diabetes from 1982-90. In the earlier study group, there were no incidents of major congenital malformations or perinatal mortality (deaths before birth or during the first week of life); in the later study group, there were 4 of each, a rate of 7%.

During the same time period, the number of young women with type 2 diabetes has been increasing, in part because of the rise in obesity in young women. Unfortunately, women who have been newly diagnosed may not fully understand the importance of maintaining good control of blood sugar levels during the childbearing years. Previous studies show that if blood sugar levels are not under control at the onset of pregnancy, the fetus is more likely to develop serious health problems.

"It's possible that the earlier onset of diabetes may be associated with increasingly poor pregnancy outcomes, but to say so with certainty would require further study," said Dr. Tine Clausen, lead researcher on the study. "Certainly, it's time to pay closer attention to the healthcare being delivered to women who develop type 2 diabetes before or during their childbearing years so that we can better protect their children."

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