Intensive management of diabetes in women before they conceive may substantially reduce their risk of bearing children with birth defects, researchers reported today.
Infants of diabetic women who began treatment before they became pregnant had significantly fewer abnormalities, according to the results of a study published in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association.
The findings were based on a study of 84 diabetic women who began intensive diabetes treatment before pregnancy and another group of 110 who were six to 30 weeks pregnant before treatment began.
The researchers gave each woman an individualized diet plan and made sure that she received the proper amount of insulin or other appropriate drugs to help control blood sugar.
All the women in the study were educated about the possible complications of diabetes and pregnancy, said Dr. John L. Kitzmiller, leader of the study.
In the first group, only one child was born with a birth defect. In the second, 12 children were born with problems, said researchers at the University of California in San Francisco.
"Our data indicate it is necessary to begin education and management before conception to prevent major congenital anomalies in infants of diabetic mothers," the study said.
The researchers said congenital problems such as heart defects in children of diabetic mothers were formed in the first five to eight weeks of pregnancy.
About 2.7 million American women under age 44 have diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. Four to 12 percent of the babies of diabetic mothers are born with major birth defects, the researchers said.