Researchers have found an association between babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes and attention problems during infancy.
The attentional deficiencies were evident as early as 6-18 months, and scientists from the National University of Singapore believe pre-pregnancy interventions should be considered for women at risk of gestational diabetes.
“Our results suggest that the effect of well-controlled GDM on child neurodevelopment is subtle,” said lead author Anne Rifkin-Graboi. “This may encourage women with GDM to manage their condition to ensure better offspring outcomes.”
The study was part of a large-scale study in Singapore of mothers and children before and after birth, known as ‘Growing Up in Singapore Towards healthy Outcomes (GUSTO)’.
Scientists measured brain activity in infants who listened to a “standard” repetitive sound. This was then interrupted by a less frequent “oddball” sound. It was expected that the standard repetitive sound would become familiar to the infants and therefore elicit less brain activity from them.
At 18 months children born to mothers with gestational diabetes responded more to the standard sound and less to the infrequent oddball sound compared to those born to mothers without the condition. This pattern in response has previously been linked to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Rifkin-Graboi noted, however, that “early presentation of such differences may enable higher-risk children to be identified earlier, to allow interventions to prevent or alleviate the development of attention-related problems.”
No differences were observed for memory function between children born to mothers with and without gestational diabetes, and the researchers said their findings could be due to the techniques used to measure brain activity.
They now plan to conduct follow-up studies evaluating whether children born to mothers with gestational diabetes maintain or develop attention problems later in life.
“If the association between GDM and attention deficiency persists, then pre-conception and early pregnancy prevention programs should be considered for women at risk for gestational diabetes, as should interventions for their offspring,” said Rifkin-Graboi.
The findings were published online in the journal PLOS.

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