Gestational diabetes develops in women who have never had diabetes before but who have high blood sugar during pregnancy. As with type 2 diabetes, obesity is a significant risk factor for gestational diabetes. The increased prevalence of gestational diabetes has closely paralleled the rise in obesity, according to background information in the study.Gestational diabetes can have short- and long-term effects for both mother and baby.
Dr. Alessandro Acosta, a neonatologist at Miami Children's Hospital, noted that the condition can cause the baby to be abnormally large, which may result in damage to the baby's shoulders during birth. Many of these babies are so large they need to be delivered by cesarean section, he said.
The problems caused by gestational diabetes don't end at delivery. "The bad news is that down the road these women are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes," he said.
DeSisto added: "Women who are diagnosed with gestational diabetes have more than a seven-fold increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the five to 10 years after delivery. Children born to mothers with gestational diabetes are also more likely to develop pre-diabetes."
Although the exact causes of gestational diabetes aren't known, one explanation is that hormones from the placenta block the action of insulin in the mother's body, according to the American Diabetes Association. This makes it hard for the mother to use insulin, so she may need up to three times as much insulin to properly use the sugar in her body.
Obesity is another possibility, DeSisto said. "Other researchers have reported that gestational diabetes has been steadily increasing consistent with the rise of obesity," she said.
Obesity has also been linked to insulin resistance, which blunts the effect of insulin and allows blood sugar levels to rise, according to the American Diabetes Association.
"Preventing obesity is a key component of well woman care and diabetes prevention. Furthermore, maintaining a healthy weight throughout the reproductive years benefits women and improves the health of any future pregnancies," DeSisto said.
Image: Pregnant woman, via Shutterstock