Researchers say diabetes during pregnancies may impact a child’s health

By | September 29, 2020

WINNIPEG — Children whose mothers had diabetes during pregnancy are more likely to get a heart disease before they turn 35-years-old – that’s what a team of Manitoba researchers has found after studying children born in the province over nearly three decades.

Dr. Jon McGavock, of the Children’s Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba and Associate Professor at the University of Manitoba, is a co-author of a new study examining how diabetes can impact the health of children.

McGavock, along with a team of researchers, studied more than 290,000 children born in Manitoba between 1979 and 2005.

“The main question we were asking is, what is the heart disease risk factor profile look like for children who were exposed to diabetes in the womb, so mom had diabetes in her pregnancy, compared to kids that weren’t,” McGavock said.

“We found some interesting findings.”

He said the risk of having a heart attack or stroke at an early age for children exposed to diabetes in the womb is 50 to 200 per cent higher than it is for the children not exposed to diabetes.

Exposed children were also around three times more likely to develop a heart disease risk factor, such as high blood pressure or diabetes.

“We can say there is an interesting link between moms’ health during pregnancy and a child’s risk for heart disease later in life,” he said.

McGavock said there are some gaps in the research. They were not able to track the lifestyle of the parents or the children.

“For those children who grew up to the age of 35, we don’t know whether they were active, or whether they were smoking, or what their other lifestyle factors were – so there are some questions that remain, some great holes to fill with our next research projects.”

So why is the risk of heart disease higher for kids exposed to diabetes in the womb? McGavock said there could be a cluster of things that result in stress for the mother.

“Those hormones and inflammatory markers or that blood sugar all come together and, while that fetus is developing, could be programming it for the life that it is expecting to live in or the environment it is expecting to live in,” he said.

For mothers living with diabetes, McGavock said they should try to maintain blood sugar levels, reduce stress levels, and stay active.

“Those are all going to be beneficial things for you as a mom and for your child,” he said. “Breastfeeding is also critical, so relying on resources to promote breastfeeding and to breastfeed as long as possible to help that child.”

McGavock said the team of researchers is now setting its sights on ways to prevent the early life origins of heart disease and said they are looking forward to investigating it further.

-with files from CTV’s Jon Hendricks

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