News reports often focus on how a mother’s behavior can influence the health of her unborn child, but a recent study decided to take a different route and investigate how the developing fetus could affect the health of its mother. The team found that male fetuses create greater metabolic changes in their mothers than female fetuses, a side effect which puts mothers of sons at increased risk for gestational diabetes.

For the study, currently published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, researchers used insurance records from nearly 643,000 women living in Ontario who had delivered their first child between April 2000 and March 2010. According to the press release, only singleton births were included in the population-based retrospective cohort study.

The data revealed that women who were having sons were more likely to develop gestational diabetes than women who were pregnant with daughters.

Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes which only develops during pregnancy. It occurs when a pregnant woman has higher levels of glucose or blood sugar in the bloodstream than normal. The diagnosis may be alarming to the woman, but the actual condition is very treatable with adherence to lifestyle and dietary changes. Women who experience gestational diabetes are found to be at greater risk for developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

Although the researchers could not conclude exactly why women pregnant with boys were at higher risk for developing gestational diabetes, they did have an idea of what could be behind the correlation.

"It is thought that gestational diabetes occurs because of a combination of underlying metabolic abnormalities in the mother and temporary metabolic changes that take place during pregnancy," explained Dr. Baiju R. Shah, one of the researchers involved in the study, as reported in the press release.

The researchers found that although women pregnant with sons were at greater risk for developing gestational diabetes, women who did develop gestational diabetes despite being pregnant with girls were then at increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes later in life. According to Shah, this suggests that these women had a disposition to develop diabetes regardless of their life circumstances.

Source: Retnakaran R, Shah BR. Fetal Sex and the Natural History of Maternal Risk of Diabetes During and After Pregnancy. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2015.