According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the US nearly 120 to 150 thousand children are born each year with structural, functional or metabolic abnormalities that results in a mental or physical disability and in some cases even death.

An article published on looks at the prevention of diabetes-induced embryopathy, which is a developmental defect in an embryo or fetus. It’s known that maternal diabetes is linked to a greater risk of embryonic malformations, but the article looks more in depth at what types of defects are being seen and possible prevention.

“Approximately 5–8 percent of newborn babies of women who have type 1 or 2 diabetes have a major congenital anomaly, which makes maternal diabetes one of the leading causes of birth defects,” says Reece E Albert, author of Diabetes-induced Embryopathy — Is Prevention Feasible?. “The incidence of congenital malformations in the offspring of diabetic mothers is three to four times more frequent than for those of infants born to non-diabetic mothers.”

There hasn’t yet been enough thorough research on the association between diabetes and birth defects. We do know that hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) during pregnancy is associated with congenital birth defects among children of diabetic mothers.

Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes diagnosed in women prior to pregnancy is known as pre-gestational diabetes. When hyperglycemia is found during a women’s pregnancy she is diagnosed with gestational diabetes.

· Pre-gestational diabetic pregnancies are associated with congenital malformations in infants, including the central nervous and cardiovascular systems.

· Gestational diabetic pregnancies are associated with growth anomalies in the baby and metabolic anomalies later in life for both mother and child.

The most common defects seen in pre-gestational and gestational diabetes:

· Cardiovascular System Defects are the most common types of birth defects seen in children from a mother with pre-gestational diabetes. There is more than a 5 percent increase of congenital cardiovascular system malformations overall compared with non-diabetic pregnancies.

· Central Nervous System Defects caused from diabetic pregnancies are the leading cause of infant mortality and morbidity in the US. CNS defects are the second most-common structural defects seen in children of pre-gestational diabetic mothers. Hyperglycemia can lead to neural tube defects, such as spina bifida. Studies have shown that there are four to ten times more neural tube defects in children of diabetic mothers compared to those of non-diabetic mothers.

· Skeletal Defects of the spine and skeleton are more common among infants of diabetic mothers. Deformities of the lower extremities including hips, knees, legs and ankles are also observed.

Is prevention possible?

The biggest dilemma thus far is the fact that the majority of diabetic women do not plan on becoming pregnant. This means that they may be entering their pregnancy without adequate blood glucose control. The article outlines approaches to help prevent fetal consequences related to diabetes. The approaches focus around exercise, weight control and nutritional supplementation.

  • · Exercising during pregnancy may limit or prevent fetal morbidities and help with maternal weight gain during pregnancy.

    · Since losing weight during a pregnancy is not a feasible aspect, weight control is a primary focus of prevention.

    · Nutritional supplements that contain antioxidants may help prevent diabetes-induced birth defects.

With the rise of type 2 diabetes in the US, the risk of diabetic-induced defects is likely to increase. There is still much needed research on the topic of preventing these abnormalities.

The most feasible way to prevent diabetes-induced effects may be achieved through exercise, weight control and nutritional supplementation. If you plan on getting pregnant speak with your doctor, and make sure you have your blood glucose under control before conceiving. Ask your doctor which supplements you should be taking and discuss an exercise and weight-control plan. Working with your doctor during the entire pregnancy will ensure that you and your baby remain as healthy as possible.

To learn more about this topic:
Ask an Expert: Pregnancy and Diabetes
Ask an Expert: What Is Gestational Diabetes?
Video: How to Deal with Gestational Diabetes