What can diabetic women expect when they are expecting?

NICE have come up with some sensible improvements for the management of diabetic pregnancies that should reduce complications for mothers and babies in the future. None of these changes are radical and indeed they are already considered best practice, but what is different is that they want to see if best practice can be made routine.

Frequency

Approximately 700,000 women give birth in England and Wales each year, and up to 5% of these women have either pre‑existing diabetes or gestational diabetes. Of women who have diabetes during pregnancy, it is estimated that approximately 87.5% have gestational diabetes (which may or may not resolve after pregnancy), 7.5% have type 1 diabetes and the remaining 5% have type 2 diabetes. The prevalence of all 3 types of diabetes is increasing. The incidence of gestational diabetes is also increasing as a result of higher rates of obesity in the general population and more pregnancies in older women.

Risks

Diabetes in pregnancy is associated with risks to the woman and to the developing fetus. Miscarriage, pre‑eclampsia and preterm labour are more common in women with pre‑existing diabetes. In addition, diabetic retinopathy can worsen rapidly during pregnancy. Stillbirth, congenital malformations, macrosomia, birth injury, perinatal mortality and postnatal adaptation problems (such as hypoglycaemia) are more common in babies born to women with pre-existing diabetes. For women diagnosed with gestational diabetes, hyperglycaemia usually resolves after pregnancy, but a proportion of these women will have type 2 diabetes after the birth. Therefore, before a woman is discharged to the care of her GP, her blood glucose levels should be tested to ensure that they have returned to normal.  Women with pre-existing diabetes will be managed in general adult diabetes services after the birth.

List of recommendations

  1. Women with diabetes planning a pregnancy are prescribed 5mg/day folic acid until 12 weeks gestation.

High-dose folic acid supplements should be prescribed for women with diabetes from at least 3 months before conception until 12 weeks of gestation, because they are at greater risk of having a baby with a neural tube defect. The benefits of high-dose folic acid supplementation should be discussed with the woman during preconception counselling as part of her preparation for pregnancy. If a woman with diabetes has an unplanned pregnancy, she should be prescribed high-dose folic acid as soon as the pregnancy is confirmed.

  1. Pregnant women with diabetes are supported to self-monitor their blood glucose levels during pregnancy.

Women with diabetes need to be able to self-monitor their blood glucose levels at an increased frequency during pregnancy. This will help them to maintain good blood glucose control throughout pregnancy, which in turn will reduce the risk of adverse outcomes such as fetal macrosomia, trauma during birth, induction of labour and/or caesarean section, neonatal hypoglycaemia and perinatal death. Support should be provided to ensure that women have access to blood glucose monitors and enough testing strips, and know how to use them.

  1. Women with pre-existing diabetes are seen at the joint diabetes and antenatal care clinic within 1 week of their pregnancy being confirmed.

Women with diabetes who become pregnant need additional care in addition to routine antenatal care. A joint diabetes and antenatal clinic is able to ensure that specialist care is delivered in order to minimise adverse pregnancy outcomes. Immediate access to a joint diabetes and antenatal clinic within 1 week will help to ensure that a woman’s diabetes is controlled during early pregnancy, when there in an increased risk of fetal loss and anomalies. It will also help to ensure that the woman’s care is planned appropriately throughout her pregnancy.

  1. Pregnant women with pre-existing diabetes have their HbA1c levels measured at their booking appointment.

A woman’s HbA1c levels can be used to determine the level of risk for her pregnancy. Women who had diabetes before they became pregnant should have their HbA1c levels measured during early pregnancy to identify the risk of potential adverse pregnancy outcomes and to ensure that any identified risks are managed.

  1. Pregnant women with pre-existing diabetes are referred for retinal assessment at their booking appointment.

Pregnant women with diabetes can have an increased risk of progression of diabetic retinopathy. Pregnant women should therefore be screened more often for diabetic retinopathy. Retinal assessment should be offered at the booking appointment unless the woman has had an assessment in the last 3 months.

  1. Pregnant women diagnosed with gestational diabetes are reviewed at the joint diabetes and antenatal care clinic within 1 week of diagnosis.

Pregnant women diagnosed with gestational diabetes should have specialist advice and treatment in a timely manner, and should be reviewed by members of the joint diabetes and antenatal care team within 1 week of being diagnosed. The joint clinic should provide the woman with advice, including why gestational diabetes occurs, potential risks and complications, and treatments aimed at reducing those risks.

  1. Women who have had gestational diabetes have annual HbA1c testing

Women who have had gestational diabetes are at increased risk of getting it again in future pregnancies. They are also at higher risk of type 2 diabetes: if they are not diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in the immediate postnatal period (up to 13 weeks after the birth), they are still at high risk of developing it in the future. Early detection of type 2 diabetes by annual HbA1c testing in primary care can delay disease progression and reduce the risk of complications. Annual testing can also reduce the risk of uncontrolled or undetected diabetes in future pregnancies.

Readers of our book can find information of the blood sugar targets that are optimal in pre-pregnancy and pregnancy and of course the type of food and menus that will help them achieve these targets. Detailed insulin administration tips are also described to optimise insulin to meal matching.

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