High Blood Sugar Increases Risks for Baby

Diabetes is a condition that results when blood sugar or blood glucose levels are too high.  Women with type 1 or type 2 diabetes at the time they become pregnant need to be aware of certain risks for their own health and for the health of their babies.

When we eat, our bodies convert food to sugar or glucose. Glucose is carried by the blood to cells throughout the body.  Insulin is a hormone required by the cells to access the glucose in the blood.  Insulin acts like a key that opens the door to allow cells to take in glucose which they need for energy.

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas cannot produce insulin.  People with type 1 diabetes must inject insulin to provide their cells with the hormone they require.  This type of diabetes is also known as juvenile diabetes because it is present from a young age.  Type 2 diabetes occurs when the cells ignore or become resistant to insulin.  This condition can develop over time and may not be present until later in life.

Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can result in large quantities of sugar being stranded in the bloodstream.  These high blood glucose levels pose serious risks for a developing baby including:

  • Birth Defects – A baby’s organs develop in the first few weeks and months of pregnancy.  Women may not know they are pregnant until after much of this development has already taken place.  Excess sugar in the mother’s bloodstream caused by uncontrolled diabetes can make the baby’s organs grow incorrectly and can cause serious birth defects including defects in the brain, spine, and heart.
  • Big Baby – When the mother’s blood glucose is not controlled, extra sugar passes through the placenta to the baby.  This results in a baby that is overfed.  When the baby’s cells have all the glucose they need for energy, the body converts the extra sugar into fat for storage.  This can result in a baby that is significantly larger than normal, which is known as macrosomia or “fat baby”.  A baby with macrosomia may be born with nerve damage in the shoulders due to pressure during delivery, or may be too large for a vaginal delivery and may need to be delivered surgically by C-section.
  • High Blood Pressure – Women with diabetes are more likely to have high blood pressure or preeclampsia during pregnancy than women without diabetes.  Preeclampsia can cause seizures or a stroke while the woman is in labor, and may cause the baby to be born early.
  • Preterm birth – Women with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes are more likely to deliver early than women without diabetes.  Preterm birth can pose serious health risks for the baby including problems with the lungs, heart, intestines and eyes.
  • Miscarriage – Women with uncontrolled diabetes are at higher risk to miscarry, which means a loss of pregnancy before 20 weeks.  They are also at higher risk of stillbirth, in which the baby dies in the womb after 20 weeks.
  • Hypoglycemia – When the baby’s pancreas senses extra sugar in the blood, it produces extra insulin to remove that sugar.  At birth, that extra supply of sugar is cut off so the baby’s blood sugar level may drop shortly after birth.  This can be fatal for the infant, but can be treated if caught and treated quickly.

Babies that are born with excess insulin due to high sugar levels in the womb are at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.  You can help protect your unborn baby from many of these risks by having your blood sugar under tight control before you become pregnant and maintaining that tight control during your entire pregnancy.

Denise DeWitt is a freelance writer for EmpowHER.com.

Related Links:

Dining Out Tips for Diabetics
Could You Be Prediabetic?
What are the Differences Between Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes?




Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetes and Pregnancy. Web. March 26, 2012.


American Diabetes Association. What is Gestational Diabetes? Web. March 26,2012.


University of Maryland Medical Center. Gestational Diabetes. Web. March 26, 2012.


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Category: Prevention,Featured Articles