When a woman is pregnant she shares every part of her existence with her unborn child from whatever she consumes to whatever she feels. Now, new research is showing that a pregnant mother with diabetes may also be sharing her disease with her offspring.

According to Dr. David Dannenbaum, an MD at the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay (CBHSSJB), there is a new theory going around the medical community that if a fetus can avoid being exposed to the abnormal sugars associated with diabetes while in-utero, it may have a stronger chance of avoiding diabetes later on in life.

In approaching the subject matter of gestational diabetes, Dannenbaum said that first it is important to clarify what gestational diabetes actually is as there is some confusion about the disease within the communities.

“The people who get gestational diabetes tend to only develop their diabetes when they are in their third trimester or the last third of their pregnancy. Then there are those who find out that they have diabetes early on in their pregnancy, these are women who had diabetes before they were pregnant but didn’t know it. These are people who are considered to have Type 2 diabetes and they have a much higher rate of complications than those who have gestational diabetes,” explained Dannenbaum.

According to Dannenbaum, the latest research on diabetes shows that it is an issue for Aboriginal peoples in Canada and around the world, but not just because the rate at which people get it seems to be increasing. There is even greater concern at which age these people are now being diagnosed since patients are getting younger.

“We are seeing complications now in people in their early 20s. The age when people are getting diabetes is getting younger and younger,” said Dannenbaum.

Once more, Dannenbaum said that in Eeyou Istchee there seems to be more Type 2 diabetes within women; it is about a 60/40 female-male ratio. While there is currently no information to prove any specific theory, one tendency the CBHSSJB is looking at is how many Cree women tend to get pregnant at a young age and have babies in quick succession without loosing the weight.

“By the age of 25, a woman could have easily had three pregnancies and from that gained 50-100 pounds,” said Dannenbaum.

Along with the obesity these young mothers experience, comes diabetes which can have an impact on the developing fetus.

Dannenbaum said the current theory that the medical community is looking at is if a mother can avoid diabetes, she may also be able to prevent her child from succumbing to it during childhood as there is now Aboriginal communities in Manitoba where overweight children as young as eight or nine are developing diabetes.

“It is most likely due to the exposure of sugar which stimulates the baby’s pancreas to produce insulin and then to deal with the sugar. It is not the high insulin levels that do it, it is the sugars. It is like resetting the pancreas’ thermostat,” explained Dannenbaum.

It is in this vein that Dannenbaum and the other medical professionals working for the CBHSSJB are now recommending that women who have gained weight with previous pregnancies try to lose that weight before becoming pregnant again as a means of helping to prevent diabetes in their child.

Dannenbaum’s other recommendation: breastfeeding.

“Breastfeeding will lower the rates of diabetes in offspring significantly. If you have diabetes or had gestational diabetes during the pregnancy, it is very important to breastfeed,” said Dannenbaum.

For more information on this subject, contact your local health professional.