The effects of gestational diabetes mellitus on children’s neurodevelopment 

The effects of gestational diabetes mellitus on children's neurodevelopment
©shutterstock/Arturs Budkevics

Gestational diabetes mellitus can have negative effects on the neurodevelopment of two-year-old children, according to the University of Turku. 

Despite the negative effects of gestational diabetes mellitus, a comprehensive and healthy diet in the mother can support a child’s neurodevelopment. 

Researchers from the University of Turku conducted a mother-child study to examine how maternal gestational diabetes, diet and obesity during pregnancy can affect neurodevelopment in children. 

What is gestational diabetes mellitus? 

Gestational diabetes mellitus is caused by a hormone made by the placenta that prevents the body from using insulin effectively. This means glucose builds up in the blood, rather than being absorbed by the cells.  

Unlike type 1 diabetes, gestational diabetes mellitus is caused by hormones produced during pregnancy that make insulin less effective, rather than a lack of insulin. Symptoms of gestational diabetes mellitus usually disappear immediately after delivery. 

The study analysed the development of children’s cognitive, language and motor skills. Maternal adiposity was determined by air displacement plethysmography, and gestational diabetes mellitus was determined with an oral glucose tolerance test. Dietary intake during pregnancy was assessed through a diet quality index and questionnaires on fish consumption.

“On average, child neurodevelopment in our data was in the normal range. Our research results showed that two-year-old children whose mothers had been diagnosed with gestational diabetes had poorer language skills than children whose mothers had not been diagnosed with gestational diabetes,” saidLotta Saros from the Institute of Biomedicine at the University of Turku. 

The researchers also found that a higher maternal body fat percentage was associated with weaker cognitive, language and motor skills in children.

“Our observation is unique, as previous studies have not examined the association between maternal body composition and children’s neurodevelopment,” said Saros. 

Gestational diabetes mellitus and obesity and high body fat mass have negative effects on the mother’s metabolism and can increase inflammation in the body. These factors are the likely mechanisms that cause a detrimental impact on the child’s neurodevelopment. 

Diet is essential to a child’s neurodevelopment

The study also revealed that better dietary quality of the mother’s diet was associated with better language development of the child. A similar finding was also discovered between mother’s fish consumption and child’s neurodevelopment.

The researchers findings suggest that a good-quality diet for a mother should contain unsaturated fatty acids that are found in fish. A quality diet should also contain soft, unsaturated fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids to promote positive neurodevelopment in children.

“A healthy, comprehensive diet during pregnancy can be particularly beneficial for the neurodevelopment of the children whose mothers belong to the risk group for gestational diabetes due to overweight or obesity,” said Professor Kirsi Laitinen who led the Early Nutrition and Health research group at the University of Turku.


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