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Diabetes Health Center

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Bad News for Babies Born to Diabetic Moms

WebMD Health News

June 19, 2000 (San Antonio) -- For babies whose mothers were diabetic during pregnancy, the health problems can be lifelong. These children are at serious risk of obesity, glucose-tolerance problems, and, eventually, type 2 diabetes, say experts who spoke here at the annual meeting of the American Diabetes Association. But this risk can be substantially reduced by screening all pregnant women, they say.

Women who already know they are diabetic should plan their pregnancies very carefully, under a doctor's care, say the experts. But even nondiabetic women should be screened in case they develop a fairly common problem known as "gestational diabetes" -- elevated blood sugar brought about by the pregnancy itself.

The mother often recovers from this condition after she gives birth, but her baby will already have been affected. Further, when a woman has pregnancy-related diabetes, it is a strong clue that she might one day develop type 2 diabetes herself.

Type 2 diabetes -- once called "adult-onset" or "non-insulin dependent" diabetes -- is the most common type of diabetes and is strongly linked to obesity. Today, most health care professionals use the term "type 2" because some of these patients are dependent on insulin and because the disease is not just for adults anymore. With ever-increasing rates of obesity and couch-potato behavior among children, more kids are developing type 2.

In any case, whether a mother has gestational diabetes or whether she had diabetes before becoming pregnant, the child's risk is the same, says Bernard L. Silverman, MD, who spoke at the meeting. Silverman is associate professor of pediatrics at Northwestern University in Chicago, where he is the head of endocrinology at Children's Memorial Hospital.

Silverman and colleagues have been following 600 children of diabetic mothers, all of whom were born between 1978 and 1983. The researchers found that these children have a body-mass index (BMI) range consistently higher than that of children born to nondiabetic mothers. (BMI is a score often used to determine obesity.) Plus, they are four times as likely to have glucose-tolerance problems.

The children who had the highest insulin levels before birth, as determined by amniocentesis, were the most likely to be overweight.

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