Smoking may trigger diabetes in pregnant women, study finds

Gestational diabetes leads to complications for mother and child; ‘ideally, women should quit smoking before they try to become pregnant,’ Hebrew University researcher says

Shoshanna Solomon was The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Illustrative close-up of a pregnant woman (Rostislav Sedlacek/ iStock by Getty Images)
Illustrative close-up of a pregnant woman (Rostislav Sedlacek/ iStock by Getty Images)

Israeli and US researchers say that smoking during pregnancy may increase the risk of gestational diabetes, which increases the dangers of pregnancy and the chances of birth complications.

Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that can develop in pregnant women, including those who didn’t already have diabetes. Every year, 2% to 10% of pregnancies in the United States are affected by gestational diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The disease can raise the mother’s risk of high blood pressure during pregnancy, and higher than average-weight babies, which may trigger early and possibly complicated deliveries. The baby also has a higher chance of having low blood sugar and of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

In a study published this week in Obstetrics & Gynecology, the international team of researchers found that pregnant women who smoke may have a higher risk of developing gestational diabetes.

Hebrew University’s Dr. Yael Bar-Zeev (Hadas Parush/Flash 90)

Women who smoked the same or a higher number of cigarettes per day as they did before their pregnancy were nearly 50 percent more likely to develop gestational diabetes, the study found.

Even those who cut down still had a 22% higher risk of developing the condition than women who never smoked or who quit smoking two years before they became pregnant.

“Ideally, women should quit smoking before they try to become pregnant,” Dr. Yael Bar-Zeev at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Braun School of Public Health and Community Medicine, who headed the team, said in a statement.

Smoking during pregnancy is one of the most significant risk factors for poor pregnancy outcomes.

In the United States, 10.7% of all women smoke during their pregnancy or are exposed to secondhand smoke. In doing so, they place their babies at a higher risk for premature birth, low birth weight and developmental delays than do their nonsmoking counterparts.

The international research team headed by the Hebrew University’s Bar-Zeev in collaboration with Dr. Haile Zelalem and Prof. Ilana Chertok at Ohio University now found that the increased risk of gestational diabetes was an added complication linked to smoking during pregnancy.

“Due to the high risks involved, it’s imperative that pregnant smokers have access to pregnancy-specific smoking cessation programs,” said Bar-Zeev.  “Currently, in the United States and Israel, these services are not accessible enough or not tailored for pregnant women and that needs to change.”

For their study, Bar-Zeev and her team conducted a secondary analysis of data collected by the United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) called the Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS).  The researchers looked at 222,408 women who gave birth during 2009-2015, of whom 12,897 (5.3%) were diagnosed with gestational diabetes.

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