Diabetes and the risk of stillbirth

Dr Jenny Myers, Dr Susan Greenwood, Professor John Aplin, Giovanna Bernativičius, Matina Hakim

Women suffering from diabetes are much more likely to suffer from stillbirths. We want to understand how high blood glucose can affect the growing baby and the placenta, so we can focus on helping women with diabetes to have safe and healthy pregnancies.

Women with diabetes are around five times more likely to have stillbirths, and three times more likely to have babies that don’t survive beyond their first few months. Diabetes can also stop babies from growing normally – they are born either too small or too large. 

Diabetes affects the body’s ability to control the levels of sugar, or glucose, in the blood. We know that high levels of glucose in a mother’s blood can stop the baby from growing properly, but at the moment we aren’t sure exactly how. 

Several women who took in part some of our earlier diabetes studies have voiced their frustration over this. Even though they tried their best to control their glucose levels during pregnancy, their babies didn’t grow normally. 

We took their feedback seriously, and went on to create the VELOCITY study. This aims to look more closely at the relationships between the level of glucose in the blood, the health of the placenta, and the growth of the baby. We think that having too much glucose in the blood due to diabetes can make it more likely for the placenta to stop working properly. This is turn will affect the baby’s growth, increasing the likelihood of stillbirth. 

This study began in September 2016, and has recruited 32 women so far. We are collecting data from blood glucose monitors on all participants, and have also collected 18 placentas. We have found that there are significant differences in the structure of placentas from women with pre-gestational diabetes compared to placentas from women without diabetes.

Ultimately, we hope that a better understanding of how diabetes affects the growing baby will help us create treatments for women suffering from diabetes during pregnancy. This will help give their babies the best possible chance of surviving.

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This study is fully funded by Tommy's and takes place in a Tommy's centre

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