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Best for Moms, Best for Babies: Controlling Diabetes Before Pregnancy

U Hospital

University of Utah Department of Pediatrics provides rate of birth defects from uncontrolled diabetes in pregnancy

Birth defects affect 1 in 33 pregnancies in Utah. January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month and seeks to raise awareness around birth defects during pregnancy and its causes. The Utah Birth Defects Network (UBDN) announced today that it has reviewed cases and causes of birth defects from 2000 to 2016. "Uncontrolled diabetes causes birth defect in about 1 in 10,000 births or about six births per year in Utah, and is the leading cause of preventable birth defects" according to John Carey MD, a pediatric geneticist with University of Utah Health. Every pregnancy has a background chance of about 3% to 5% for having a baby with a birth defect, but uncontrolled diabetes increases that chance to about 6% to 20%.

Birth defects are costly for families and society. A parent may have to give up a job to care for a child with a birth defects and research indicates that mothers of those children may live shorter lives. Families and health insurance plans bear the costs for repeated hospitalizations, usually costing tens of thousands of dollars each with several hospitalizations over the life of the child.

Some of the birth defects from uncontrolled diabetes occur early in the first trimester, often before the mother realizes she is pregnant. These defects usually occur in groups, not just one birth defect, and may include various heart defects, spinal defects, skeletal defects, kidney and gastrointestinal tract defects, urinary tract defects, and reproductive tract defects. In addition to the structural birth defects, uncontrolled diabetes increases the chances for other problems for the mother including high blood pressure, too much amniotic fluid around the baby, and preterm delivery. For the newborn, problems include breathing problems, low blood sugar, and jaundice or yellow skin.

MotherToBaby Utah, established in 1984 as the Pregnancy Risk Line, is a joint partnership between the University of Utah Department of Pediatrics and the Utah Department of Health. The program, Utah's designated teratogen information service and one of only 14 centers in the country, provides information about exposures in pregnancy and breastfeeding. Those exposures may be from uncontrolled diabetes, other medical conditions, medications, cosmetics, chemicals, or foods. Women, their partners, and their providers can call, email, text or chat with highly-trained experts to get the latest information. The program responds to over 6,000 inquiries per year.

"We answer questions anonymously about exposures from Accutane and aspirin to Zika and Zoloft. We provide research-based information without judgment to help mom and baby have the best outcomes possible," said Al Romeo, RN, a teratology information specialist with the program.

MotherToBaby Utah works with pharmacists to encourage preconception screening to identify women with diabetes before pregnancy. MotherToBaby Utah developed new materials, including printed materials, a video, and podcasts, for women and their providers about uncontrolled diabetes in pregnancy.

MotherToBaby Utah is looking for partners, including health insurers, healthcare providers, and other stakeholders, to help identify women with diabetes before they become pregnant, in order to help them understand the risks and get them in contact with their providers to control their diabetes throughout their reproductive years.

For questions about medications and harmful exposures during pregnancy and while breastfeeding, call the MotherToBaby Utah program at 1-800-822-2229 or 801-328-2229, text 1-855-999-3525, email, or visit MotherToBaby. Staff and medical consultants are available to answer questions Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Media contact: Al Romeo (o) 801-538-6009, (c) 801-898-6249