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Women's Health
May 14, 2019

Management of Preexisting Diabetes in Pregnancy: A Review

Author Affiliations
  • 1Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina
  • 2Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts
  • 3Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California, Los Angeles
JAMA. 2019;321(18):1811-1819. doi:10.1001/jama.2019.4981
Key Points

Question  What are evidence-based approaches to managing preexisting diabetes in pregnancy?

Findings  Management considerations vary depending on whether women are in the preconception, pregnancy, or postpartum stage. Optimization of glycemic control prior to pregnancy is a very important step, with a target hemoglobin A1c of less than 6.5% at conception. Insulin is the cornerstone of pharmacotherapy for women with type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Attention to nutrition as well as comorbidities, including obesity, nephropathy, and hypertension, is essential.

Meaning  Management of diabetes in pregnant women requires careful attention to glycemic control, medication regimens, and comorbidities and planning throughout all stages before, during, and after pregnancy.


Importance  The presence of preexisting type 1 or type 2 diabetes in pregnancy increases the risk of adverse maternal and neonatal outcomes, such as preeclampsia, cesarean delivery, preterm delivery, macrosomia, and congenital defects. Approximately 0.9% of the 4 million births in the United States annually are complicated by preexisting diabetes.

Observations  Women with diabetes have increased risk for adverse maternal and neonatal outcomes, and similar risks are present with type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Both forms of diabetes require similar intensity of diabetes care. Preconception planning is very important to avoid unintended pregnancies and to minimize risk of congenital defects. Hemoglobin A1c goals are less than 6.5% at conception and less than 6.0% during pregnancy. It is also critical to screen for and manage comorbid illnesses, such as retinopathy and nephropathy. Medications known to be unsafe in pregnancy, such as angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors and statins, should be discontinued. Women with obesity should be screened for obstructive sleep apnea, which is often undiagnosed and can result in poor outcomes. Blood pressure goals must be considered carefully because lower treatment thresholds may be required for women with nephropathy. During pregnancy, continuous glucose monitoring can improve glycemic control and neonatal outcomes in women with type 1 diabetes. Insulin is first-line therapy for all women with preexisting diabetes; injections and insulin pump therapy are both effective approaches. Rates of severe hypoglycemia are increased during pregnancy; therefore, glucagon should be available to the patient and close contacts should be trained in its use. Low-dose aspirin is recommended soon after 12 weeks’ gestation to minimize the risk of preeclampsia. The importance of discussing long-acting reversible contraception before and after pregnancy, to allow for appropriate preconception planning, cannot be overstated.

Conclusions and Relevance  Preexisting diabetes in pregnancy is complex and is associated with significant maternal and neonatal risk. Optimization of glycemic control, medication regimens, and careful attention to comorbid conditions can help mitigate these risks and ensure quality diabetes care before, during, and after pregnancy.