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May 6, 2002

Genetics and Heredity, Gestational Diabetes

Question from Wishek, North Dakota, USA:

I have had three children weighing more than 10 pounds, one of whom needed help to start breathing, was on oxygen for a few days, was hypoglycemic, was bruised from his birth, and had to be treated for jaundice, but I was never diagnosed with gestational diabetes during these these pregnancies, but was with my most recent pregnancy. This required insulin injections and resulted in a healthy 8 pound baby. What type of effects can a child of a mother with undiagnosed and untreated gestational diabetes have later in life? Are they more likely to be overweight or to develop either type 1 or type 2 diabetes? What are the potential long term complications and likelihood of them occurring?


This is not a theme that seems to have been extensively studied. However, in a 1994 review from Germany he link between maternal and fetal hyperinsulinism in gestational diabetes and later type 2 diabetes in the infants is remarked. Mention is also made of a relationship to type 1 diabetes, but this seems much less probable in the light of our greatly increased understanding of autoimmunity . (See Dorner G, Plagemann A. Perinatal hyperinsulinism as possible predisposing factor for diabetes mellitus, obesity and enhanced cardiovascular risk in later life. Horm Metab Res, 1994 May;26(5):213-21.)

I could find no study that put a figure on this increased risk, but it would seem to be sensible to try to ensure that the three oldest children especially were encouraged in active sports and were so far as possible helped to avoid becoming overweight.