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How diabetes can increase the risk of birth defects

Pregnancy By Esther Muchene
Diabetes during pregnancy puts both the mother and baby's health at risk (Photo: Shutterstock)

Dealing with diabetes while you’re pregnant is a high-risk situation. Women who have diabetes are more likely to give birth to babies with birth defects and it is also a health risk for a mum.

ALSO READ: Four health benefits of reducing your sugar intake

The two types of diabetes associated with pregnancies are pregestational and gestational diabetes. Pregestational is the type where the mother already has diabetes prior to the pregnancy while the gestational diabetes comes up during the pregnancy.

There's a high risk in developing diabetes if it’s linked to family genes, if you’re dealing with obesity and the chances also increase as you get older.

When it comes to gestational diabetes, the pregnancy hormones alter your regulation of insulin and blood sugar levels, which then leads to this condition. After the pregnancy, the diabetes usually goes away but it can also increase the chances of developing other types of diabetes in future.

There are different types of birth defects that are influenced by diabetes in pregnancy.

i. High birth weight (Macrosomia)

In many cases, the baby can be born too big because of all the glucose that’s stored as fat in their bodies during the pregnancy. This increases the possibility of a difficult delivery because the canal will be too small for them. As a result, the baby is likely to get injured during delivery. A baby with macrosomia can possibly struggle with obesity and diabetes as well.

ii. Heart problems

Diabetes might result in defects in their cardiovascular system such as underdeveloped valves and blood vessels. This will mean that their heart isn’t able to pump enough oxygen throughout the body. It might force their hearts and lungs to work way more than they’re supposed to.

iii. Respiratory defects

They’re also at risk of having underdeveloped lungs. It’s often as a result of preterm birth, which is also associated with diabetes, where the baby’s organs hadn’t developed fully. If they also have defects of the heart, it could severely damage their lungs even more.

iv. Cleft lip and palette malformation

This happens with pregestational diabetes. The lips and the mouth develop in the first few weeks of pregnancy and if you’re diabetic and you’re not aware of the pregnancy, your baby is at risk of developing this deformity. Unplanned pregnancies are risky in diabetic women.

v. Neural tube defects 

It affects development of the brain and spine. It’s as a result of folic acid deficiency when a mother isn’t keen on maintaining her body’s daily requirements during the first crucial weeks of pregnancy. This affects the closing of the neural tube and stunts the development of the baby’s brain.

Reading about these defects is scary but it doesn’t mean that you must expect defects when you’re diabetic.

Being keen on your diet and exercising regularly to maintain a healthy weight will significantly reduce the risks.

And if you’re already diabetic, you should always plan your pregnancies and liaise with your doctor for regular checkups as part of your prenatal care.

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