Diabetes During Pregnancy May Be Linked with Increased Risk of Several Developmental Disorders

Note: The Pregistry website includes expert reports on more than 2000 medications, 300 diseases, and 150 common exposures during pregnancy and lactation. For the topic Diabetes, go here. These expert reports are free of charge and can be saved and shared.

A study has just been published shows there may be an association between a woman having diabetes during her pregnancy and an increased risk of her baby developing what are called neurodevelopmental disorders. These conditions include autism, attention deficit/attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD), developmental delays, cerebral palsy, and epilepsy, among others. The study included data from women who had type 1, type 2, or gestational diabetes.

There have been previous studies that have found an association between a mother having gestational diabetes and an increased risk of neurodevelopmental disorders, the authors of this study said. For example, a different study that was published in September 2022 found that a pregnant woman who is obese and has gestational diabetes was twice as likely to have a child who developed ADHD compared to a pregnant woman who was not obese and who did not have gestational diabetes.

This new study looked to see whether there was a relationship between type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, and gestational diabetes in mothers and an increased risk of neurodevelopmental disorders in their children. Type 1 diabetes is the type where your body is not producing enough insulin because of an autoimmune condition that attacks the pancreas. Type 2 diabetes is where your body produces enough insulin but cannot use it effectively. Gestational diabetes is diabetes that develops while you are pregnant, and which goes away after you have your baby.

Insulin is the hormone that controls the levels of sugar in your blood and helps regulate your metabolism. About 10% of Americans have some form of diabetes.

The new research is based on data from 877,233 children born in Taiwan between 2004 and 2008 who were followed until 2015 to see if they had been diagnosed with neurodevelopmental conditions. They defined having a neurodevelopmental disorder by whether the child had been admitted to the hospital or had at least two outpatient clinical visits for one of the disorders.

The study found that there were 338 born to women with type 1 diabetes, and 8,749 born to women with type 2 diabetes, which adds up to less than 1.5% of the children followed. A larger group of children, 90,200 or just over 10%, were born to women who had gestational diabetes during their pregnancies.

The researchers accounted for other factors that could have played a role in the developmental health of the children. These included the age of both parents, the sex of the baby, family income, whether the mother had had high blood pressure, and whether the birth was premature.

The study found that having type 1 diabetes during pregnancy had the most significant impact on neurodevelopmental disorders in the children. Children born to mothers with type 1 diabetes were about 50% more likely to have ADHD and more than twice as likely to have developmental delays as were children of nondiabetic mothers. These children were also five times more likely to have cerebral palsy and more than twice as likely to have epilepsy.

Having type 2 diabetes during pregnancy was associated with less of an impact on neurodevelopmental disorders in children. These children were about 50% more likely to have autism spectrum disorder, more than 50% more likely to have developmental delays, about 35% more likely to have ADHD, and more than 50% more likely to have epilepsy.

Having gestational diabetes was associated with the lowest impact on neurodevelopmental disorders. These children were about 30% more likely to develop autism spectrum disorder but were only slightly more likely to develop either ADHD or developmental delays.

The researchers also found that mothers who had type 1, type 2, or gestational diabetes were more likely to have a premature baby, high blood pressure during their pregnancy, or preeclampsia than mothers without diabetes. They were also more likely to have a cesarean delivery. The children of mothers with diabetes were more likely to be large for gestational age or have a low Apgar score, which means they were in poorer condition at birth.

The new research is a retrospective study, which means that it looked at existing data that was collected in the past. In this case, the data was gathered from Taiwan’s national health insurance program. The insurance program keeps data on diseases and health issues, including diagnoses of diabetes in the mother and neurodevelopmental disorders in children. By combing through this data, researchers were able to compare the health of mothers during their pregnancy and the health outcomes of their children.

It is important to understand that this research shows an association between diabetes and an increased risk of neurodevelopmental disorders in their children. It does not mean that all children of mothers with diabetes will have any of these disorders. The authors of the study noted that there may be some factors that could have biased the results. One important factor is how well the mothers controlled their blood sugar levels during their pregnancies, which was not included in the data the authors analyzed.

The study was published in the journal Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology. The authors are Kuan-Ru Chen, Tsung Yu, Yueh-Ju Lien, Yen-Yin Chou, and Pao-Lin Kuo.

Valerie DeBenedette
Valerie DeBenedette is an experienced health and medical writer who lives about an hour north of New York City with a dog that is smaller than her cat. Her work has appeared in magazines, newspapers, newsletters, and on websites. She is a member of the National Association of Science Writers.

Leave a Reply