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Fetal Gender Provides Clues for the Risk of Diabetes in Women During and After Pregnancy

May 21, 2015

A new study has found that the  sex of her baby can impact  a woman’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes in the first few years after pregnancy  as well as her risk of having gestational diabetes in her next  pregnancy. The study, led by Dr. Ravi Retnakaran and published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, found that developing gestational diabetes (GDM) while carrying a girl may be an indicator of particularly poor maternal pancreatic beta-cell function, putting these mothers at higher risk for the early development of type 2 diabetes.

The reason for this risk is believed to be associated with a finding earlier this year, also by Dr. Retnakaran, that carrying a male fetus has a negative impact on pancreatic beta-cell function and carries with it an increased risk of GDM. Therefore, if a woman develops GDM while carrying a female fetus, which doesn’t have the same negative impact as a male fetus, it suggests that she may have a comparatively greater deficit in beta-cell function that could then lead to type 2 diabetes.

Dr. Retnakaran, a Clinician-Scientist at Mount Sinai’s Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute, part of Sinai Health System, and an endocrinologist at the Leadership Sinai Centre for Diabetes at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, worked with Dr. Baiju Shah, a senior scientist at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences and an endocrinologist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre to review the records of 642,987 women in Ontario who had a single first pregnancy with a live-birth delivery and did not previously have diabetes.

The findings showed that women who had GDM in their first pregnancy were more likely to develop type 2 diabetes before a second pregnancy if they had been carrying a girl, as compared to a boy. The study also showed that, while carrying a boy is associated with a slightly elevated risk of developing GDM overall, it does not increase the likelihood of the recurrence of GDM in second pregnancies.  

“The impact of a baby’s gender on a mother’s risk of developing diabetes after delivery and in a second pregnancy is helping us to better understand the processes that lead to diabetes in young women,” said Dr. Retnakaran. “This study gives new insight into a previously-unrecognized risk factor, and may provide new understanding of why certain women are at higher risk of GDM.”

Scientists at Mount Sinai Hospital’s Leadership Sinai Centre for Diabetes—which has been ranked number one in the world for its comprehensive approach to type 1, type 2 and gestational diabetes research— have taken a leading role in advancing the understanding and treatment of diabetes at the local, provincial, national and international levels.

The study in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism is titled, "Fetal Sex and the Natural History of Maternal Risk of Diabetes during and after Pregnancy."