A cautionary response to SMFM statement: pharmacological treatment of gestational diabetes

Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2018 Oct;219(4):367.e1-367.e7. doi: 10.1016/j.ajog.2018.06.013. Epub 2018 Jun 28.


Use of oral agents to treat gestational diabetes mellitus remains controversial. Recent recommendations from the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine assert that metformin may be a safe first-line alternative to insulin for gestational diabetes mellitus treatment and preferable to glyburide. However, several issues should give pause to the widespread adoption of metformin use during pregnancy. Fetal concentrations of metformin are equal to maternal, and metformin can inhibit growth, suppress mitochondrial respiration, have epigenetic modifications on gene expression, mimic fetal nutrient restriction, and alter postnatal gluconeogenic responses. Because both the placenta and fetus express metformin transporters and exhibit high mitochondrial activity, these properties raise important questions about developmental programming of metabolic disease in offspring. Animal studies have demonstrated that prenatal metformin exposure results in adverse long-term outcomes on body weight and metabolism. Two recent clinical randomized controlled trials in women with gestational diabetes mellitus or polycystic ovary syndrome provide evidence that metformin exposure in utero may produce a metabolic phenotype that increases childhood weight or obesity. These developmental programming effects challenge the conclusion that metformin is equivalent to insulin. Although the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine statement endorsed metformin over glyburide if oral agents are used, there are few studies directly comparing the 2 agents and it is not clear that metformin alone is superior to glyburide. Moreover, it should be noted that prior clinical studies have dosed glyburide in a manner inconsistent with its pharmacokinetic properties, resulting in poor glycemic control and high rates of maternal hypoglycemia. We concur with the American Diabetes Association and American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which recommend insulin as the preferred agent, but we believe that it is premature to embrace metformin as equivalent to insulin or superior to glyburide. Due to the uncertainty of the long-term metabolic risks of either metformin or glyburide, we call for carefully controlled studies that optimize oral medication dosing according to their pharmacodynamic and pharmacokinetic properties in pregnancy, appropriately target medications based on individual patterns of hyperglycemia, and follow the offspring long-term for metabolic risk.

Keywords: diabetes in pregnancy; glyburide; guidelines; metformin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Diabetes, Gestational / drug therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / adverse effects
  • Hypoglycemic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Metformin / adverse effects
  • Metformin / therapeutic use*
  • Obstetrics
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic*
  • Pregnancy
  • Societies, Medical
  • United States


  • Hypoglycemic Agents
  • Metformin