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Uncontrolled Diabetes in Women Linked to Birth Defects

Uncontrolled Diabetes in Women Linked to Birth DefectsApproximately one in every 33 babies is born with a birth defect each year in the United States. Sadly, birth defects are also a leading cause of death in children under the age of one—causing one in every five deaths. Women of childbearing age should be aware there is a critical link between uncontrolled diabetes and increased risk for birth defects, warns the National Birth Defects Prevention Network (NBDPN).

“Women who have uncontrolled Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetes prior to becoming pregnant and during the first trimester are at greater risk for birth defects and miscarriages,” says Leslie Tidwell, MD, OB/GYN on the medical staff of Houston Medical Center. “Studies have shown that the key to a healthy pregnancy for women with diabetes is keeping blood glucose in target range—both before and during pregnancy.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines a birth defect as a problem that happens while the baby is developing in the mother’s body. Birth defects can affect how the body looks, how it works, or both. Some birth defects are mild, such as an extra finger or toe. Others are very serious, such as a heart defect or defects of the brain or spine. Birth defects can cause physical, mental or medical problems, and babies born with birth defects have a greater chance of illness and long-term disability. Both genetic and environmental factors can cause birth defects, and, for many babies born with a birth defect, there is no family history of the condition.

“Many birth defects happen very early in pregnancy, sometimes before a woman even knows she is pregnant. That’s why early and effective management of diabetes in expectant mothers is critical in helping to not only prevent birth defects, but also to reduce the risk for other health complications for both the mother and the baby,” continues Dr. Tidwell.

The occurrence of diabetes in women of childbearing age has doubled in the last 10 years, affecting 1.3 million nationwide and approximately 21,200 women of childbearing age in Georgia. While diabetes has been identified as a public health concern, the general public is still unaware of the complications that uncontrolled diabetes can have on both the mom-to-be as well as her unborn baby. Babies born to women with diabetes, especially women with uncontrolled diabetes, are at greater risk for birth defects of the heart, brain, spine, kidneys, gastrointestinal tract, limbs and mouth. In fact, according to a study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, women diagnosed with Type 1 or Type 2 Diabetes before they become pregnant are three to four times more likely to have a baby with one or more birth defects compared to women who do not have diabetes.

“The number of birth defects linked to uncontrolled diabetes underscores just how important it is for women to take care of themselves and to get the best possible health care before becoming pregnant,” continues Dr. Tidwell. “It’s still a mystery as to what causes some birth defects, but there are simple steps any woman can take to lower her risk of having a baby with a birth defect. Small steps like visiting a health care provider before pregnancy and taking a multivitamin everyday can make a big difference.”

Below are some steps any woman of childbearing age can take to ensure a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby:

  • Take a vitamin with 400 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid every day.
  • Avoid alcohol, tobacco and recreational drugs.
  • Keep hands clean by washing them often with soap and water to prevent infections.
  • See a health care professional regularly. Talk with the health care professional about any medical problems and using any medicines (both prescription and over-the-counter).
  • Ask about avoiding any substances at work or at home that might be harmful to a developing baby.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
  • Avoid unpasteurized (raw) milk and foods made from it.
  • Avoid eating raw or undercooked meat.
  • Make sure all vaccinations are up-to-date.

Houston Healthcare’s award-winning, nationally recognized Diabetes Management Program offers a series of classes to equip participants with the skills and knowledge to control and effectively manage the disease. For more information or to register for any of Houston Healthcare’s Diabetes Management courses, please call (478) 923-9771 or visit our calendar.

Houston Medical Center
1601 Watson Boulevard
Warner Robins, Georgia 31093
Telephone: (478) 922-4281


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Perry Hospital
1120 Morningside Drive
Perry, Georgia 31069
Telephone: (478) 987-3600

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