Expectant mothers who are either obese or diabetic have a higher likelihood to give birth to babies that are excessively large, according to a new study featured in the journal Diabetes Care.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge examined the impact of a condition known as gestational diabetes on the health of pregnant women and their babies. They analyzed medical data collected from more than 4,000 first time mothers who took part in a study known as the Pregnancy Outcome Prediction.

The team discovered that infants who were born to obese or diabetic mothers are five times more likely to become overly large during the sixth month of pregnancy. This not only exposes mothers to greater health risk during childbirth, but it also increases the risk for children to develop obesity or diabetes of their own later in their lives.

The findings of the study bring to light the importance of having expectant mothers routinely tested for pregnancy-related diabetes. While doctors administer regular diabetes screening on pregnant women, the test is only conducted when mothers reach the 24th week (6th month) of their pregnancy.

The researchers propose to have pregnant women, especially those who are obese or at a high risk of diabetes, to undergo screening at an earlier period. This is because the development of their baby could suffer from complications by the time they reach their 20th week. Early diabetes testing can give doctors enough time to carry out ways to lower the risk overgrowth in the babies of these mothers.

Lead investigator Gordon Smith pointed out that even though doctors have identified an increased risk of childhood obesity in the babies of mothers with gestational diabetes, no clinical trial has ever proven that testing and intervention during pregnancy were able to help reduce this risk.

Smith and his team believe that this could be because by the time the mother undergoes testing and intervention, the impacts of her gestational diabetes may have already manifested in her unborn child.

"The evidence from our study indicates that there is an urgent need for trials to assess the effect of earlier screening, both on the outcome of the pregnancy and the long term health for the offspring," Smith said.

Photo: Raúl Hernández González | Flickr 

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