Skip to content

Diabetes Health Center

Font Size

Diabetes Risky During Pregnancy

Infant Deaths, Birth Defects More Common in Diabetic Pregnancies
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

June 15, 2006 -- Maternal diabetesdiabetes may nearly quadruple the risk of infant death and double the risk of birth defects, a new study shows.

Doctors already knew diabetes can be a major health threat to fetuses and newborns. The new study, published in BMJ Online First, shows the magnitude of that threat.

Mary Macintosh, MD, and colleagues studied 2,359 pregnancies among diabetic women in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Macintosh is the medical director for the London-based Confidential Enquiry into Maternal and Child Health.

The deliveries occurred from March 2002 through February 2003. The group included women diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (1,707 women) or type 2 diabetes (652 women) at least a year before the estimated delivery date.

Data came from 231 maternity units in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland that treat women with diabetes.

Higher Rate of Infant Deaths, Birth Defects

Infant deaths and birth defects were more common among women with diabetes than in the general population, according to the study.

During the study, the diabetic women had 63 stillborn babies and 75 babies who died within a week of birth. Perinatal death (stillbirth or death within seven days after birth) equaled 32 per 1,000 births for women with type 1 or type 2 diabetes.

That rate is "nearly four times higher than that in the general maternity population," write Macintosh and colleagues.

A total of 141 major birth defects were identified and confirmed in 109 babies. The rate of birth defects was 46 per 1,000 births -- that's more than double the general public's rate of 21 per 1,000 births.

The increased risk of birth defects was highest for congenital heart diseaseheart disease and abnormalities of the nervous system. Those problems were roughly three times more common in the diabetic women than in the general public.

Study's Limits

The study doesn't prove diabetesdiabetes was responsible for any infant deaths or birth defects.

Perinatal death and birth defects can happen for many reasons and aren't limited to people with diabetes. Doctors often can't pinpoint an exact reason for infant deaths or birth defects.

Is This Normal? Get the Facts Fast!

Check Your Blood Sugar Level Now
What type of diabetes do you have?
Your gender:

Get the latest Diabetes newsletter delivered to your inbox!


Your level is currently

If the level is below 70 or you are experiencing symptoms such as shaking, sweating or difficulty thinking, you will need to raise the number immediately. A quick solution is to eat a few pieces of hard candy or 1 tablespoon of sugar or honey. Recheck your numbers again in 15 minutes to see if the number has gone up. If not, repeat the steps above or call your doctor.

People who experience hypoglycemia several times in a week should call their health care provider. It's important to monitor your levels each day so you can make sure your numbers are within the range. If you are pregnant always consult with your health care provider.

Congratulations on taking steps to manage your health.

However, it's important to continue to track your numbers so that you can make lifestyle changes if needed. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

Your level is high if this reading was taken before eating. Aim for 70-130 before meals and less than 180 two hours after meals.

Even if your number is high, it's not too late for you to take control of your health and lower your blood sugar.

One of the first steps is to monitor your levels each day. If you are pregnant always consult with your physician.

Did You Know Your Lifestyle Choices
Affect Your Blood Sugar?

Use the Blood Glucose Tracker to monitor
how well you manage your blood sugar over time.

Get Started

This tool is not intended for women who are pregnant.

Start Over

Step:  of 

Today on WebMD

Diabetic tools
Symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and more.
woman flexing muscles
10 strength training exercises.
Blood sugar test
12 practical tips.
Tom Hanks
Stars living with type 1 or type 2.
kenneth fujioka, md
Can Vinegar Treat Diabetes
Middle aged person
Home Healthcare

Prediabetes How to Prevent Type 2 Diabetes
type 2 diabetes
food fitness planner