New research that has been part-funded by Sands has revealed that women who develop diabetes in pregnancy, but are not diagnosed, are much more likely to experience stillbirth than women without the condition.
The study, led by the University of Leeds and the University of Manchester, found that the risk of stillbirth was four-times higher in women who developed signs of gestational diabetes but were not diagnosed.
However, with appropriate screening and diagnosis that increased risk of stillbirth disappeared.
The study compared the symptoms and care of 291 women who experienced a stillbirth to 733 similar women who did not experience a stillbirth across 41 maternity units in England.
Researchers found that across all women with high blood sugar, measured after a period of fasting, they had on average twice the risk of stillbirth than women without the condition.
The increased risk was likely to be caused by the missed diagnoses and lack of subsequent care experienced by many of the women, although the results show an association only, and cannot provide certainty about cause and effect.
Janet Scott, Research and Prevention Lead at Sands, said: “The death of a baby is a lifelong tragedy for the bereaved families. Good monitoring in pregnancy is vital to identify any health problems and make sure that women and babies have the right care that will give them the best chance.
“This new research shows how important it is that maternity units follow national care guidelines from the National Institute for Clinical Care Excellence (NICE), on monitoring for diabetes in pregnancy. Where screening tests identify pregnant women with higher than expected amounts of sugar in their blood – a marker for diabetes – the risk of stillbirth can be lowered or removed.
“Sands welcomes this research and urges all units to follow the NICE guidelines to lower the risk of stillbirth and save babies lives.”
According to recent figures, approximately 5% of women in the UK experience gestational diabetes during pregnancy.
Dr Thomasina Stacey, who led the study at the University of Leeds and now works at the University of Huddersfield, said: "There's good news and there's bad news. The good news is that women with gestational diabetes have no increase in stillbirth risk if national guidelines are followed for screening, diagnosis and management. The bad news is that the guidelines are not always followed and some women therefore experience avoidably higher risk."
NICE recommends that all women at a higher risk of gestational diabetes should receive blood screening for the condition. This includes women with a raised body mass index (a BMI of over 30), or from South Asian or Black Caribbean ethnic groups.
The research project came out of a Stillbirth Summit in 2011, and was shaped with the help of more than 550 parents and members of the public. It was designed by and for parents, to try to maximise the positive impact it could have on society.
The new research was published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (BJOG): An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.
The paper which is titled 'Gestational diabetes and the risk of late stillbirth: a case-control study from England, UK' can be found here
For further information on gestational diabetes, visit the Safer Pregnancy website.