Study: Gestational Diabetes May Affect Baby’s Brain

effects of gestational diabetes on unborn baby

A new study says there’s a possibility that high blood sugar affects a baby’s brain. But do the differences found in the study mean that these babies are at a definitive risk?

Thanks to that notoriously flat-tasting orange drink given to pregnant mothers for a mandatory blood glucose test, midway through pregnancy, awareness of gestational diabetes is widespread.

But we are still learning exactly what the risks are to the unborn baby should we receive the diagnosis.

Gestational diabetes — when blood sugar levels rise too high during pregnancy — affects up to 9.2% of pregnancies, and a study published earlier this year in the journal BJOG found that the prevalence of gestational diabetes has been on a sharp upturn since 1979. The point is, gestational diabetes isn’t uncommon.

Like type 2 diabetes, gestational diabetes is associated with insulin resistance, meaning her body isn’t responding well to the insulin hormone that regulates blood sugar. In gestational diabetes, it’s thought that hormones from the placenta that help the baby grow also block signals from insulin in affected mothers. Exactly why this happens in affected mothers and not other pregnant mothers is not fully understood.

It is also not completely known how high blood sugar affects the unborn baby. What we do know is mothers who develop gestational diabetes, but who did not have diabetes prior to the pregnancy, are not at risk of giving birth to a baby with birth defects associated with early pregnancy deformation. Gestational diabetes typically develops after the 24th week of pregnancy, after the baby’s body and organs have formed.

However, the last half of pregnancy is still incredibly important as this is when baby is putting on the pounds and inches, body-wide. When women with gestational diabetes are untreated or do not or are unable to control their high blood sugar, the unborn baby also develops high blood sugar — leading to growth patterns that may put them at higher risk of birth injuries, very low blood glucose levels at birth, breathing and breastfeeding difficulties, and later risk of childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes in adulthood. There is also a body of research that suggests that internal organs, such as the baby’s heart, pancreas, and kidneys, may be affected.

Now, a new study, presented December 11 at the EuroEcho-Imaging 2016 meeting in Germany, has revealed another — rather scary-sounding — difference among unborn babies of mothers with gestational diabetes versus those of mothers without the diagnosis: the possibility that high blood sugar affects the baby’s brain.

Any study exploring differences in baby brains is scary, I admit, but I caution that the study only found a difference — and not a definitive risk.

What the American study found, building off previous research that identified subtle changes to the heart muscles of the unborn baby of a mother with gestational diabetes, is not only did the heart of the unborn babies of mothers with gestational diabetes pump out less blood than the heart of babies of mothers without the diagnosis but overall blood circulation also differed in affected babies. Specifically, more blood was diverted to the placenta, and less blood was circulated in the brain, of unborn babies of mothers with gestational diabetes.

Already known before this study is that the placental blood vessels in pregnancies of mothers with gestational diabetes are larger than a pregnancy without the diagnosis. The study’s author, Dr. Aparna Kulkarni, pediatric cardiologist at the Bronx-Lebanon Hospital Center in New York City, explained:

“It is easier for blood to flow to the placenta, and harder for blood to flow to the brain.”

The study concluded the possibility that reduced circulation in the brain could affect the unborn baby’s brain, though the researchers didn’t speculate how and, really, it doesn’t do us any good for any one to guess the implications of this research.

What’s important is that women go through screening for gestational diabetes — that we continue being made to drink that awful-tasting orange drink — so that the proper diagnosis can be made and treatment can commence. Keeping blood sugar controlled continues to be the best way for mothers to try to prevent or lessen the possible effects to unborn babies.

[Source: Nature World News]

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