Mama's Diabetes May Hurt Baby's Brain

Maternal obesity and diabetes increases risk of autism and developmental disorders in child

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Just as a healthy mother is more likely to give birth to a healthy baby, an unhealthy mother has a higher chance of having an unhealthy baby. A mother with diabetes, for example, may put her child's brain at risk.

Mothers with metabolic conditions like obesity and diabetes may be more likely to have a child with developmental disorders such as autism, compared to mothers without these metabolic conditions.

"Get your weight under control before getting pregnant."

A recent study - conducted by Paula Krakowiak, M.S., of the Medical Investigation of Neurodevelopmental Disorders (MIND) Institute at the University of California, Davis - revealed that obese mothers were about 1 and 2/3 times more likely to give birth to a child with autism, compared to normal-weight women without other metabolic conditions. Obese mothers were also had twice the risk of giving birth to a child with another developmental disorder.

Compared to healthy mothers, diabetic mothers had almost 2 and 1/3 times the risk of having a child with developmental delays. Even though autism was more common in children of diabetic mothers, the difference was not significant enough.

"Over a third of U.S. women in their childbearing years are obese and nearly one-tenth have gestational or type 2 diabetes during pregnancy," says Krakowiak.

"Our finding that these maternal conditions may be lined with neurodevelopment problems in children raises concerns and therefore may have serious public health implications," she explains.

For their research, Krakowiak and colleagues studied 517 children with autism, 172 with developmental delays, and 315 without developmental problems. All of the children were between two and five years of age.

According to the authors, the study is the first of its kind to look at the relationship developmental disorders in children and metabolic problems in mothers other than diabetes.

That is, they looked at how maternal diabetes affected the risk of developmental disorders in children. But they also looked at how other metabolic disorders - including obesity and high blood pressure - would impact that same risk.

The researchers found that more than 20 percent of mothers of children with autism or other developmental disorders were obese. In comparison, 14 percent of mothers with normally developing children were obese.

About 29 percent of autistic children had mothers with a metabolic condition. Almost 35 percent of children with developmental disorders had mothers with a metabolic condition.

Only 19 percent of normal developing children had mothers with a metabolic condition.

While the study found links between metabolic conditions in mothers and developmental issues in their children, the results do not explain what may be causing these links.

More research is needed to understand this relationship.

The study received support from the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the University of California, Davis MIND Institute.

The results were published online in the journal Pediatrics

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 9, 2012
Last Updated:
April 9, 2012