Gestational diabetes is generally thought of as a serious pregnancy complication, but is believed to cause few long-term health consequences. However, that view is increasingly being challenged, as evidence is beginning to emerge suggesting that it can jeopardize the health of both the mother and the child.
For example, a team of researchers from Children's Hospital in Los Angeles showed that children born to women who experienced gestational diabetes are significantly more likely to become obese during childhood and develop other health complications later in life, such as type 2 diabetes.
The team followed groups of children from birth through adulthood. The results showed that individuals born to women with gestational diabetes had higher birth weights. Furthermore, this increased weight persisted through childhood into their adult lives. This resulted in compromised metabolic health and a higher risk of type 2 diabetes.
The researchers said their findings add to the growing understanding of the impact of gestational diabetes and are changing doctors' views of the risk associated with the condition. In the words of lead researcher Sebastian Bouret, children are likely to "become what their mothers ate."
"The gestational and early postnatal periods represent important periods of vulnerability, during which alterations in the intrauterine environment may have long-term and potentially irreversible consequences on neuron growth and connectivity," he said.
Other recent research has shown that experiencing gestational diabetes may increase a woman's chances of developing type 2 diabetes later in life, which contradicts previously held knowledge.
Gestational diabetes is generally thought to have little lasting impact on a woman after it has cleared up following delivery. However, researchers from Kaiser Permanente showed that African American women who experienced gestational diabetes were 10 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
The researchers said that more women should be alerted to the health risks associated with gestational diabetes. While most individuals may be aware that the condition can complicate their pregnancy, they may not know that it can have lasting implications for themselves and their children. Taking steps to live a healthy lifestyle and avoid the condition may be key to preventing type 2 diabetes in the future.