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Diabetes during pregnancy: what puts babies at risk of diabetes too?

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What did the project achieve?

Researchers have improved understanding of how babies are affected if their mother has diabetes during pregnancy.

Evidence suggests babies born to mothers who have type 2 diabetes during pregnancy are four times more likely than other babies to develop diabetes themselves later in life, but no-one knows why and it’s not possible to predict which babies will be affected.1

Although many cases of type 2 diabetes could be prevented, the number of people with the condition in UK has been rising fast.2 Around 2.8 million people in the UK have type 2 diabetes, which reduces both quality of life and life expectancy.2,3

“We’ve found that, although babies born to mothers who developed diabetes during pregnancy have similar levels of body fat to other babies at birth, they have 16 per cent more body fat than other babies when they’re two months old” says Dr Karen Logan, of Imperial College London.

“We’ve also discovered that babies born to mothers who develop diabetes during pregnancy have altered ‘metabolic fingerprints’ at birth,” adds Dr Logan. “This means the pattern of hundreds of naturally occurring substances in the babies’ urine is altered at birth, although these differences were no longer detectable a few weeks later.”

These findings reinforce the need to control diabetes during pregnancy. The team hopes to continue their studies, with the aim of finding ways to predict which babies are at risk of developing type 2 diabetes in later life and stop them from doing so.


1. Dabelea D et al. Intrauterine exposure to diabetes conveys risks for type 2 diabetes and obesity: a study of discordant sibships. Diabetes 2000; 49:2208-11.

2. Holden SE et al. Prevalence, glucose control and relative survival of people with Type 2 diabetes in the UK from 1991 to 2013. Diabet Med 2017 Jun;34(6):770-780.

3. NICE guideline [NG28]. Type 2 diabetes in adults: management. Published date: December 2015 Last updated: May 2017. Website accessed 12 August 2017.

This research was completed on

Research Training Fellowship*: Dr Karen Logan

Babies born to mothers who suffer from diabetes during pregnancy are at least four times more likely than other babies to develop type 2 diabetes later in life.1 However, there is no way to predict which of these babies will actually develop diabetes. Dr Karen Logan of Imperial College, London, is investigating how a mother’s diabetes affects her baby, focusing on changes in babies’ body fat and urine. Her work could eventually lead to ways to identify babies at highest risk.

What is the problem and who does it affect?

Up to 40,000 babies are born to mothers who suffered from diabetes during pregnancy each year in the UK.2,3 These babies are at increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes themselves later in life. The reasons for this are unknown and it is not possible to predict which of the babies will actually go on to develop diabetes.

Although type 2 diabetes is most typically diagnosed during adulthood, it is increasingly being diagnosed in children. ‘Learning to cope with type 2 diabetes is a big task for any child or young person,’ explains Dr Logan. ‘High blood glucose can make children feel unwell and cause difficulties with concentration. The children may need to monitor their blood glucose, consider their food choices and remember any medications or insulin injections. Simple things, such as playing sports, or going on a school trip, may need careful planning. Type 2 diabetes can make children feel different from their classmates, it can cause emotional and behavioural challenges, and it can lead to poor confidence and low mood.’

Type 2 diabetes can have serious long-term consequences too, bringing an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, vision loss, and kidney disease, for example, in later life.

What is the project trying to achieve?

Dr Logan is looking for differences between 100 babies born to mothers who did, and did not, develop diabetes during pregnancy. ‘I am analysing the babies’ “metabolic fingerprints” – using sophisticated techniques to assess the pattern of hundreds of naturally occurring substances in urine’, explains Dr Logan. ‘The babies are also having short, 15-minute MRI scans, while asleep, so that I can assess how much body fat they have and where it’s located, as well as the amount of fat in the liver.’

‘I think that prevention is key in reducing the burden of type 2 diabetes,’ says Dr Logan. ‘Finding a way to predict which babies are most at risk of developing the condition would allow us to take steps to reduce their risk.’ Losing weight can help, for example, if children are overweight. This research could take us an important step closer to those ultimate goals of prediction and prevention.

What are the researchers’ credentials?

Dr Logan is committed to tackling type 2 diabetes. ‘I am thrilled to be offered this fellowship with Action Medical Research’, says Dr Logan. ‘My long-term aim is to find ways to identify children at risk of type 2 diabetes and develop interventions that reduce children’s chances of developing the condition.’


  1. Dabelea D et al. Intrauterine exposure to diabetes conveys risks for type 2 diabetes and obesity: a study of discordant sibships. Diabetes 2000; 49:2208-11.
  2. National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE). Diabetes in pregnancy. March 2008. Website accessed 8 March 2012
  3. Office for National Statistics.

*Research Training Fellowships:

Each year, Action Medical Research awards these prestigious grants to help the brightest and best doctors and scientists develop their career in medical research.

Project LeaderDr Karen M Logan MBBS MRCPCH
Project TeamSupervisor: Professor Neena Modi MBChB MRCP MD FRCP FRCPCHSupervisor: Professor Elaine Holmes BSc PhD
Project LocationDepartment of Medicine, Section of Neonatal Medicine, Imperial College, London
Project Location OtherDepartment of Surgery and Cancer, Imperial College, London
Project duration2 years
Date awarded14 February 2012
Project start date5 July 2012
Project end date31 December 2016
Grant amount£189,234
Grant codeGN2008, RTF1331

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