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At 2 months of age, the babies of mothers with gestational diabetes had 16 percent more body fat than babies of mothers without the disorder. This finding is in contrast to their body fat at birth, when fat levels in both groups were about the same overall, the researchers said.
"Gestational diabetes is becoming more and more common, and babies born to these mothers are at increased risk of developing diabetes when they grow up. Therefore, we need to understand what effects maternal diabetes has on the baby," said study lead author Karen Logan of Imperial College London.
"This new study suggests diabetes in the mother can trigger changes in the baby at a very early stage," Logan explained in a college news release.
Although the study doesn't confirm cause-and-effect, the researchers think it may have something to do with changes to metabolism in the womb or differences in the breast milk of the mothers.
According to study senior author Neena Modi, a professor at Imperial College London, "Previous studies have suggested that diabetes may cause changes in breast milk, so that it contains more sugar, fat or different levels of compounds that control appetite, called hunger hormones."
Most of the 86 babies in the study -- 42 born to mothers with gestational diabetes -- were breast-fed. The researchers measured their body fat levels via MRI scans shortly after birth and again when they were 8 to 12 weeks old.
Gestational diabetes -- diabetes during pregnancy -- causes high blood sugar levels. The condition affects an estimated one in 20 pregnant women in the United Kingdom, the study authors noted. And the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests the prevalence may be even higher in the United States -- up to 9 percent.
Being overweight is a major risk factor for gestational diabetes. However, Logan noted that many of the women in this study weren't overweight. She said there are other potential causes of the condition, such as a genetic predisposition.
"All of the women in the study had their condition well-controlled. However, this study suggests that even good treatment during pregnancy may not be enough to prevent longer-term problems in the baby," Logan said.
The study was published May 12 in Diabetes Care.
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SOURCE: Imperial College London, news release, May 12, 2016