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Gestational diabetes and birth injuries

Many North Carolina women develop gestational diabetes during their pregnancies. Doctors and researchers are not sure what causes the condition to develop, and untreated or unmanaged gestational diabetes may lead to certain risks to the health of both mothers and babies.

Although the exact cause of gestational diabetes is unknown, it appears to be related to hormones released by the placenta, the organ that encases the baby and connects it to its mother's body. These hormones are critical to a baby's development. However, the hormones also affect the mother's body and have a negative impact on her body's ability to use insulin, rendering it less effective than normal. Mothers with gestational diabetes may need as much as three times the normal amount of insulin to process glucose. When glucose remains unprocessed, it stays in the bloodstream, often accumulating to dangerous levels. This condition is called hyperglycemia.

The glucose that remains in the bloodstream may cross the placenta and enter the baby's body. While gestational diabetes does not typically cause birth defects, babies may grow larger than is typical. They may develop respiratory problems or have hypoglycemia at birth. Children whose mothers had gestational diabetes are also at risk for developing obesity and type 2 diabetes later in life. Large babies are at a much higher risk for becoming trapped in the birth canal because of shoulder dystocia. Doctors may have to pull larger babies free from the birth canal by using forceps or other techniques, leaving the baby at risk for suffering brachial plexus injuries or other complications.

Shoulder dystocia is unpredictable, but certain mothers are at higher risk than others. Mothers who suspect their doctors failed to diagnose their gestational diabetes or prepare for possible birth emergencies sometimes consider seeking compensation through a medical malpractice action if these conditions resulted in birth injuries.

Source: American Diabetes Association, "How Gestational Diabetes Can Affect Your Baby", accessed on Jan. 26, 2015

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