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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.

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