Birth Control Use May Increase Gestational Diabetes Risk

Pregnant Woman

Pregnant women may have an increased risk of developing gestational diabetes if they took hormonal birth control.

A new study may have bad news for mothers-to-be who were once on hormonal birth control. The study suggests a link between birth control use and an increased risk of developing gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM).

Some pregnant women with no history of diabetes develop gestational diabetes, which usually goes away after birth. A new study from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services seems to have found a link between taking hormonal birth control, such as the birth control pill, patch or injection, and a higher risk of developing gestational diabetes.

The study involved over 2,700 women who had filled out the Missouri Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS) survey in 2007 and 2008. The survey involved various states and covered about 78 percent of all live births in the U.S. during that time frame. The survey is meant to monitor the experiences of new mothers before, during, and after their pregnancy.

As part of the survey, the women answered questions about their birth control use before their pregnancy, and whether they used hormonal or other forms of birth control. It also asked if they had developed gestational diabetes while pregnant. The survey found that the most common form of birth control was hormonal, at about 18 percent, and that just over 8 percent of women surveyed had developed gestational diabetes.

The researchers found that women who had used hormonal birth control were more likely to have developed gestational diabetes. This was after accounting for other variances in the pregnancy experience, like age, ethnic background, income and education, marital status, health insurance and type of medical care they received before giving birth.

Doctors caution, however, that more research is needed before confirming that hormonal birth control use does increase the risk of developing gestational diabetes. The women in the study were asked which methods of birth control they used, but were not asked about how long they used it or other details.

Women frequently develop gestational diabetes while pregnant, especially in their third trimester. Scientists believe it is related to pregnancy hormones interfering with insulin receptors, resulting in elevated blood sugar levels as the sugar remains in the bloodstream instead of entering cells.

Doctors often treat gestational diabetes with adjusted diet and exercise, but sometimes the mothers must take insulin. If left untreated, gestational diabetes could cause seizures, pre-eclampsia or stillbirth, and babies are often large for their age or have low blood sugar or jaundice. Children could also be more prone to diabetes and obesity later on.

Besides the use of hormonal birth control, women may be at an increased risk for developing gestational diabetes if they are overweight or over thirty-five years of age, have a family history of diabetes, or are from certain ethnic backgrounds, among other factors.

Often women with gestational diabetes show no symptoms, but a regular medical screening during pregnancy can detect the condition. Since more research is needed to determine whether there is, in fact, a definite link between using hormonal birth control and developing gestational diabetes, most doctors are not yet recommending any changes to birth control use for women.

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