The Birds and the Bees… and Diabetes

If you have diabetes, you may know the importance of keeping your glucose level as close to normal as possible. When you do, you feel good. You probably also know that to keep your glucose at that level, you should: Photo of women forming a circle and looking down at camera

  • Make healthy food choices
  • Eat the right amounts of food
  • Be active every day
  • Stay at a healthy weight
  • Take your medicines and check your blood glucose as planned with your health care team

But there's another reason to keep your body healthy and your diabetes in check, besides making you feel and look good. Did you know that your baby has a higher risk of birth defects if your diabetes isn't under control? At this point you're probably thinking, "Whoa, that's not happening any time soon. Why think about it now?"

There may come a day when you start a family. And guess what? All those good things you do for yourself now are also good for a future baby. Women who can control their diabetes before they become pregnant cut the risk of birth defects in half. Of every 100 births to women with uncontrolled diabetes:

  • 3 to 10 babies have heart (cardiac) defects
  • 2 babies have brain and spinal cord (central nervous system) defects
  • 1 baby has stomach and intestine (gastrointestinal) defects
  • 2 babies have muscle and bone (musculoskeletal) defects
  • 2 babies have cleft lip or palate (orofacial clefts)
  • 3 babies have kidney and bladder (urinary tract) defects

And it's not just the baby that is affected. There is more of a risk to you too. But there's good news to all of this: You can choose to be healthy now. Why wouldn't you? Being in control of your diabetes makes you feel and look good. In addition, all women should take 400μg (micrograms) of folic acid daily (found in most multivitamins). This is important for women with or without diabetes. Folic acid helps prevent birth defects, and it keeps you healthy – it's used to make red blood cells, and research is going on about its role in improving memory and preventing certain diseases.

Learning to live with your diabetes now, and taking folic acid, is a great way for you to be healthy and feel good. And if you start a family sometime in the future you'll be glad you took such good care of yourself now.

References:

McLeod L, Ray J: Prevention and detection of diabetic embryopathy. Community Genet. 2002;5:33-39.

Pregestational diabetes mellitus. ACOG Practice Bulletin No. 60. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Obstet Gynecol 2005;105:675-85.

MDHHS FACT CARDS:

The Birds and the Bees… and Diabetes (PDF)
La diabetes, la cigüeña y tú (PDF)

LINKS:

Teens Living with Diabetes
Diabetes and Pregnancy
Healthy Habits and Food Tips
Parents of Children with Diabetes
Information for Health Professionals

Questions? Comments? Contact Us!
Michigan Department of Community Health
Birth Defects Program
BDRFollowup@michigan.gov