Diabetes UK is warning that children born to women with gestational diabetes are six times more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes later in life.
The charity is urging women to try to make sure they are a healthy weight, which is the most important thing they can do to reduce their risk of gestational diabetes. While people may understand that gestational diabetes makes the pregnancy higher risk for both mother and child, they may be unaware of the long-term health effects to the child.
Diabetes UK is warning that the increasing rates of gestational diabetes could mean a health time bomb, with those children who go on to develop Type 2 diabetes later in life at higher risk of early death and health problems such as heart disease and kidney failure.
While some of this higher risk to the child is likely to be because of its family history, part of it is also likely to be because of the mother’s high blood glucose levels affecting its early life nutrition. Women with gestational diabetes are also seven times more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes in later life.
New diagnosis guidelines
About five per cent of pregnant women in the UK – around 35,000 women – are diagnosed with gestational diabetes each year. New diagnosis guidelines, published by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) earlier this year, are likely to see even more women being diagnosed with the condition as they introduce a lower threshold (measuring blood glucose levels) for diagnosing the condition.
Other risk factors for gestational diabetes include: having had gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy or having had a baby that weighed over 10 lbs (4.5kg); being older (aged over 25); having close family relatives (parents or siblings) with Type 2 diabetes; or being of a South Asian, Black or African Caribbean or Middle Eastern background.
Barbara Young, Chief Executive of Diabetes UK, said: “It is well established that gestational diabetes is a serious health issue that can cause birth defects, stillbirth and complications for the mother. But it is also important that women understand that gestational diabetes leaves a frightening legacy, putting the child at increased risk of a serious health condition which, if poorly managed, can lead to complications such as kidney disease, stroke and amputation.
“Given that we know being overweight significantly increases risk of gestational diabetes, we need to get across the message to women that making sure they are a healthy weight is important for their child’s health and that this health benefit may stretch many years into the future.
“It is also important that women with gestational diabetes get the care and support they need, as the better they are able to manage their condition the better their baby’s chance of a long and healthy life. This is why we are today launching a new guide on gestational diabetes that helps women with the condition to navigate their way towards a healthy pregnancy and birth.”
Douglas Twenefour, Clinical Advisor at Diabetes UK and author of Diabetes UK’s ‘Gestational Diabetes’ guide, said: “Until now there has been very little accessible information for women diagnosed with gestational diabetes, but our new guide aims to redress that. Gestational diabetes is a serious condition which can be potentially dangerous for both mother and child. By giving mums-to-be all the information they need to help them manage their condition we aim to reassure them and help them to achieve safer and happier pregnancies, reducing the short-term and long-term risks to mother and child.”
Here to help
Our ‘Gestational Diabetes’ guide explains the condition, gives practical tips and explains the care and treatment to help support a healthy pregnancy and labour, can be downloaded from our gestational diabetes pages.
Alternatively, you can order a free hard copy from the Diabetes UK online shop.