ADI members share the latest research on diabetes during pregnancy

Gestational diabetes can have lifelong impacts on mothers and their children, but there is hope in the form of diet and better support.

STEPHENY ZANI - 07 April 2021

Characterized by the development of high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) during the gestational period, gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) increases the risk for pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia. It also carries the potential for long-term consequences to both the mother and the baby later in life. In Alberta, GDM diagnosis increased by around 10 per cent between 2005 and 2018, highlighting the importance of interventions to support affected women and their children.

On March 23, the Alberta Diabetes Institute (ADI) series of webinars in celebration of the 100th anniversary of insulin discovery continued with a discussion about diabetes in pregnancy. ADI members Edmond Ryan, professor emeritus in the Department of Medicine and Rhonda Bell, professor in the Faculty of Agricultural, Life & Environmental Sciences, explored the historical context and the influence of diet in diabetes mellitus during pregnancy.

Here are the main messages from the webinar.

GDM has serious consequences

Gestational diabetes mellitus is linked with short- and long-term consequences to mother and baby. In the short term, consequences for the mother include a higher rate of gestational hypertension, C-section and preterm delivery. For the baby, the mother’s GDM is associated with large babies who are at risk for trauma during delivery and neonatal hypoglycemia. These infants are also more likely to spend more time in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). In the long term, mothers with GDM have a greater chance of developing diabetes postpartum, while their babies are more prone to obesity throughout their lives.

Nutrition impacts the risk for diabetes in pregnancy

Healthy eating and physical activity during pregnancy both lead to a decreased risk for GDM .Weight changes between pregnancies may also affect the risk for developing GDM. For example, a reduction in body mass index (BMI) after the first pregnancy of an overweight woman is associated with lower risk for GDM during her second pregnancy, while an increase in BMI between pregnancies is associated with increased risk of developing GDM.

During pregnancy, it can be challenging to adopt new healthy habits

A study conducted by Bell’s group showed that even when pregnant women are aware of the importance of a healthy pregnancy, the burden of other aspects of life (family conflicts, finances, child care, work) can get in the way of them making the necessary changes. Work done by her group also showed that, despite their strong initial intention to exclusively breastfeed, women who suffered from GDM were less likely to do so at three months postpartum. The study clearly shows the need to support women with GDM both during pregnancy and postpartum.

Multigenerational studies could aid in the design of better diabetes interventions

Because one generation can have an impact on the development of diabetes in the next generation, nutritional and lifestyle studies must be conducted across generations to understand how that process works. Such research will allow for the design of better interventions related to diabetes.

More information about diabetes in pregnancy can be found on the website created by Edmond Ryan.

Next in the ADI seminar series is a discussion about 100 years of advances in nutrition and exercise therapy for diabetes, Tuesday, April 13, 2-3 p.m.