Specific birth defects in pregnancies of women with diabetes: National Birth Defects Prevention Study, 1997-2011

Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2020 Feb;222(2):176.e1-176.e11. doi: 10.1016/j.ajog.2019.08.028. Epub 2019 Aug 24.


Background: Diabetes is associated with an increased risk for many birth defects and is likely to have an increasing impact on birth defect prevalence because of the rise in diabetes in the United States in recent decades. One of the first analyses in which specific birth defects were assessed for their relationship with both pregestational and gestational diabetes used data from the initial 6 years of the National Birth Defects Prevention Study. That analysis reported strong associations for pregestational diabetes with several birth defects, but few exposures among some of the less common birth defects led to unstable estimates with wide confidence intervals. Since that analysis, the study continued to collect data for another 8 years, including information on approximately 19,000 additional cases and 6900 additional controls.

Objective: Our objective was to use data from the National Birth Defects Prevention Study, the largest population-based birth defects case-control study in the United States, to provide updated and more precise estimates of the association between diabetes and birth defects, including some defects not previously assessed.

Study design: We analyzed data on deliveries from October 1997 through December 2011. Mothers of case and control infants were interviewed about their health conditions and exposures during pregnancy, including diagnosis of pregestational (type 1 or type 2) diabetes before the index pregnancy or gestational diabetes during the index pregnancy. Using logistic regression, we separately assessed the association between pregestational and gestational diabetes with specific categories of structural birth defects for which there were at least 3 exposed case infants. For birth defect categories for which there were at least 5 exposed case infants, we calculated odds ratios adjusted for maternal body mass index, age, education, race/ethnicity, and study site; for defect categories with 3 or 4 exposed cases, we calculated crude odds ratios.

Results: Pregestational diabetes was reported by 0.6% of mothers of control infants (71 of 11,447) and 2.5% of mothers of case infants (775 of 31,007). Gestational diabetes during the index pregnancy was reported by 4.7% of mothers of control infants (536 of 11,447) and 5.3% of mothers of case infants (1,653 of 31,007). Pregestational diabetes was associated with strong, statistically significant odds ratios (range, 2.5-80.2) for 46 of 50 birth defects considered. The largest odds ratio was observed for sacral agenesis (adjusted odds ratio, 80.2; 95% confidence interval, 46.1-139.3). A greater than 10-fold increased risk was also observed for holoprosencephaly (adjusted odds ratio, 13.1; 95% confidence interval, 7.0-24.5), longitudinal limb deficiency (adjusted odds ratio, 10.1; 95% confidence interval, 6.2-16.5), heterotaxy (adjusted odds ratio, 12.3; 95% confidence interval, 7.3-20.5), truncus arteriosus (adjusted odds ratio, 14.9; 95% confidence interval, 7.6-29.3), atrioventricular septal defect (adjusted odds ratio, 10.5; 95% confidence interval, 6.2-17.9), and single ventricle complex (adjusted odds ratio, 14.7; 95% confidence interval, 8.9-24.3). For gestational diabetes, statistically significant odds ratios were fewer (12 of 56) and of smaller magnitude (range, 1.3- 2.1; 0.5 for gastroschisis).

Conclusion: Pregestational diabetes is associated with a markedly increased risk for many specific births defects. Because glycemic control before pregnancy is associated with a reduced risk for birth defects, ongoing quality care for persons with diabetes is an important opportunity for prevention.

Keywords: atrioventricular septal defect; birth defect; case control study; epidemiology; gestational diabetes; heterotaxy, holoprosencephaly; longitudinal limb deficiency; pregestational diabetes; pregnancy; sacral agenesis; single ventricle complex; truncus arteriosus; type 1 diabetes; type 2 diabetes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Abnormalities, Multiple / epidemiology
  • Adult
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Congenital Abnormalities / epidemiology*
  • Diabetes, Gestational / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Gastroschisis / epidemiology
  • Heart Defects, Congenital / epidemiology
  • Holoprosencephaly / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Limb Deformities, Congenital / epidemiology
  • Meningocele / epidemiology
  • Nervous System Malformations / epidemiology
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy in Diabetics / epidemiology*
  • Sacrococcygeal Region / abnormalities
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult

Supplementary concepts

  • Sacral defect and anterior sacral meningocele