Health and Fitness · November 15, 2020

Can Pre-Existing Diabetes Increase the Chances of Birth Defects?

Diabetes is a chronic condition, in which the body is unable to produce enough insulin. As result of which, the glucose level in the blood increases, causing serious complications in the kidney, heart and the eyes. Although this condition can be brought under control with proper diet, careful monitoring of the health, regular exercise and medication. These precautions become far more important for women who are pregnant with pre-existing diabetes. In fact, a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found out that, women pregnant with pre-existing diabetes are at an increased risk of giving birth to babies with birth defects maybe in the brain, spine or heart.

 What causes these Birth Defects in Babies?

 1 in 33 babies across the globe are affected by birth defects, which are actually structural changes in the baby’s organs at the time of birth.

It has been found that, a baby’s organs are formed by the first two months of pregnancy. During pregnancy, the much-needed oxygen and nutrients from the maternal blood flows down to the foetus helping the foetus to grow. But, if a pregnant mother is already diabetic, the developing foetus also gets exposed to the glucose (sugar) in the blood, which in turn affects the organs while they are being formed causing serious birth defects in them.


 Here are the effects:

  1. Continuous exposure to glucose makes the baby “overfed”. Such babies are big for age at the time of birth.
  2. Researchers believe that pre-existing diabetes substantially increases the risk of various birth defects in babies – like defect of the lower spine, brain and limb.
  3. Congenital heart defects in babies can also be co-related to pre-existing diabetes.
  4. Women with type 1 or type 2 diabetes can also get affected with high blood pressure (preeclampsia) during pregnancy. And high blood pressure can cause harm to the growing baby, which in turn might lead to seizure or brain stroke (damage), in the baby during the time of delivery.
  5. Post birth these babies are likely to have
  • Breathing problem due to less mature lungs
  • High bilirubin level and
  • Thickening of the heart muscles

How can this be dealt with?

  • Discuss pregnancy plans: The best way to reduce the risks of pre-existing diabetes is to ensure that, your health practitioner or diabetic specialist is aware about your pregnancy plans at least 3 to 6 months before you conceive. S/He can then refer you to a pre-pregnancy counselling centre, a few easy-going exercises and meditation.
  • Eat diabetic meal: Once you’re pregnant, following a diabetic meal plan as guided by your dietician is a must.
  • Folic Acid is a must: Since it helps in preventing the baby from developing birth defects like spina bifida, including at least 5 mg of folic acid every day until 12 weeks of pregnancy in the diabetic diet chart is a must.
  • Exercise to keep the blood sugar under control: Consult your doctor and aim for at least 30 minutes of intensive physical activity before, during pregnancy and post child birth. This may include brisk walking or aerobics.
  • Get your HbA1c test done every month: To check your average glucose level for the previous 2-3 months. If it is below 6.5%, then there can be lower chances of birth defects, miscarriage or stillbirth. However, if the levels are higher, your diabetic specialist will help you manage your blood sugar strictly before your become pregnant.
  • Monitor Blood Sugar Quite Often: Since the first 8 weeks of pregnancy is a crucial time for foetal development, and you may not know immediately when you become pregnant so it’s best to keep your blood sugar checked and ready for pregnancy.
  • Take medicines as prescribed: Once your glucose level is ready to make you pregnant or once you are pregnant, stop taking any other blood sugar lowering tablets. As they may neither be safe for you nor for the life growing inside you. Take medication practised by your gynaecologist.
  • Insulin pumps and glucose monitoring: Like several other pregnant women, your hormones also tend to behave differently. That means you should be aware of the significant rise and fall of the hormones and manage your diabetes accordingly. For example, in your early pregnancy, with its discomforts like morning sickness and nausea, you might use insulin effectively lower than usual. However, in the later part, you might need more insulin. Overall, you will have to be extra-careful about keeping your diabetes under strict eyes.
  • Frequent Scans: Ultrasound scans to monitor the growth and the well-being of the foetus. If the scan shows that the foetus is not developing appropriately, it can pose a threat to the mother as well as baby.

Is there any other treatment available for diabetes?

To save you from all odds during pregnancy including diabetes, the doctors will put you under conventional medication. However, studies are going on to prove the effectiveness of stem cell therapy (using cord blood stem cells) on diabetes too.

 Then, is Gestational Diabetes different?

Yes, it is.

Gestational Diabetes is when the blood sugar level increases during pregnancy. This is a temporary condition, which usually goes back to normal after child birth. But, if its constantly on the higher side during pregnancy, this condition can also result in birth defects, which is as bad as pre-gestational diabetes.

Summing Up:

If you are diabetic and intend to get pregnant, please ensure that you discuss with your doctor and undergo treatment and lifestyle changes as suggested by him.  This will ensure that you have an uncomplicated pregnancy and give birth to your healthy bundle of joy!

Author Bio: She is a professor of Genetics in Bangalore. She has contributed to several online research papers. However, she passionately develops contents on pregnancy, childbirth, childcare and Stem Cell Banking and umbilical cord blood banking.