Baby's Gender May Bump up Mom's Diabetes Risk

Gestational diabetes likelihood in pregnant women may increase when developing fetus is male

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Expecting moms face a list of possible health concerns, including the risk of developing diabetes during pregnancy. But for those having baby boys, the odds may be even higher.

A new study found that an unborn baby's gender may make a difference in a mother's risk of developing gestational diabetes. Those expecting boys may also be more likely to develop the condition compared with those expecting girls.

Andre F. Hall, MD, a board-certified OB-GYN at Birth and Women's Care in Fayetteville, NC, told dailyRx News that he didn't know a specific physiological reason why carrying a boy would lead to an increase in gestational diabetes risk.

"I believe that additional studies exploring possible causative factors behind this result would be needed before conclusions can be made," Dr. Hall said. "I would also be interested in knowing if these numbers held up when looking at much larger numbers. I would also be interested in knowing whether these numbers held up if a similar chart review would be done in another country. For example, could there be other causative factors that led to this 3% discrepancy in other countries that may be as a result of a diet that was specific to one country versus another?"

Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that can occur during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes can affect the health of both mother and baby. A 2014 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that as many as 9 percent of mothers-to-be develop gestational diabetes.

Baiju R. Shah, MD, of the University of Toronto's Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Toronto, Canada, and Ravi Retnakaran, MD, of Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, NY, and the University of Toronto, led this study.

“It is thought that gestational diabetes occurs because of a combination of underlying metabolic abnormalities in the mother and temporary metabolic changes that take place during pregnancy,” Dr. Shah said in a press release. “Our findings suggest a male fetus leads to greater pregnancy-associated metabolic changes than a female fetus does.”

In gestational diabetes, a woman’s body is not processing blood sugar (glucose) as it should. Blood sugar rises to levels that are higher than normal. Metabolic refers to the chemical reactions that take place within the cells in the body.

Drs. Shah and Retnakaran and team looked at insurance records from about 643,000 women in Ontario, Canada, who delivered their first child between April 2000 and March 2010. More than 313,000 of those women had a girl and nearly 330,000 had a boy. The likelihood of gestational diabetes was found to be 3 percent higher in women carrying a boy.

According to the American Diabetes Association, women diagnosed with gestational diabetes may face a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the future. Children may also have health problems later in life if their mothers had this condition. These problems may include breathing issues and a higher chance of developing type 2 diabetes as an adult.

In type 2 diabetes, the body produces insulin (a hormone) but doesn’t use it properly. Insulin normally helps cells process blood sugar. In type 1 diabetes, the body doesn’t produce insulin at all.

Drs. Shah and Retnakaran and team found that — although those carrying boys were more likely to get gestational diabetes — women carrying girls who developed the condition were more likely to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes after pregnancy. Their risk of getting type 2 diabetes was 7 percent higher.

According to the American Diabetes Association, gestational diabetes may be caused by hormones in a baby’s placenta. These hormones may interfere with the mother’s insulin production.

“This study suggests that the baby can help us better understand the health of the mother, and can help us predict her risks for future diseases,” Dr. Shah said.

This study was published online May 20 in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research funded this research. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Review Date: 
May 20, 2015
Last Updated:
May 28, 2015