Maternal Diabetes, Obesity Linked to Infant Heart Defects

New research found that babies born to mothers with diabetes or obesity had a higher rate of congenital heart defects, including ventricular septal defects, complex defects, and left ventricular outflow tract obstruction.

In a study published on January 5 in JAMA Network Open, researchers analyzed 620,751 Finnish children born between 2006 and 2016 and their mothers to determine whether maternal obesity and type 1 diabetes impacted infant heart health.

The researchers found that of the more than 600,000 babies analyzed, 10,254 were born with a congenital heart defect.

When the scientists examined the mother's obesity and type-2 diabetes status, they found that mothers with diabetes had 3.77-fold increased odds of having a child with any congenital heart defect compared to mothers without diabetes.

The data suggests that maternal overweight and obesity were responsible for 0.7%, and maternal diabetes was responsible for 3.0% of infant congenital heart defects.

However, maternal obesity was associated with a heightened risk for only complex and outflow tract obstruction defects.

The researchers also discovered that mothers with higher BMIs had a lower risk of having a child with ventricular septal defects.

Overall, the findings showed that maternal overweight and obesity were associated with smaller increases in the odds of having a baby born with congenital heart defects than previously reported, the study's authors note.

Still, the reasons behind these findings are unclear.

The researchers suggest that maternal diabetes and being overweight or obese may have mechanisms that interrupt fetal development, which could lead to heart defects or, in some cases, lower the chance of defects.

Moreover, previous research has found that high blood sugar during early pregnancy is associated with an increased risk for heart defects in infants of mothers without diabetes, suggesting hyperglycemia can impact fetal development.

Earlier research has also shown that maternal obesity may contribute to structural changes in the fetal heart, which may play a role in the development of congenital heart defects.

Though more research is needed, the study's authors say with the prevalence of gestational diabetes and higher maternal BMIs increasing, the risk of congenital heart defects in infants at the population level is significant. They suggest implementing weight and obesity prevention strategies and effectively treating diabetes could help reduce this risk.

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