A local birth cohort study, GUSTO (Growing Up in Singapore Towards Healthy Outcomes), has found that babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes may have attention issues.
Mothers with gestational diabetes
– the type which develops during
pregnancy, could be more likely to
have babies with attention problems,
a local study suggests.
The study found that these babies
paid more attention to background
noise, which should be ignored,
compared to babies whose mothers
did not have the condition. They also
did not respond as well to odd, infrequent
To detect this, the event-related
potential (ERP) technique was
used, which measures brain response
to a specific stimulus.
“The literature shows that differences
in some of the ERP performances
are predictive of attention
problems,” said Dr Cai Shirong, senior
research fellow at the National
University of Singapore’s Yong Loo
Lin School of Medicine, who led the
But she cautioned that the analysis
was preliminary, looking so far
only at babies aged six months and
18 months.“We don’t yet know whether
it will translate to attention
problems later in life.”
So the team will be following up
with the babies to assess if they do
develop attention problems later
on, such as attention deficit hyperactivity
Children with ADHD have trouble
focusing on certain tasks and
The research is part of an ongoing
project called Growing Up In Singapore
Towards Healthy Outcomes
(Gusto), which was started in 2009
with around 1,200 expectant women.
It continues to track the women
and their children.
The latest study on attention analysed
data from 473 babies, 74 of
which were born to mothers who
had gestational diabetes. The
babies’ brain activity was tracked as
they were played a “standard”
sound and an “oddball” sound of either
“ma” or “na”.
People generally commit standard
sounds to memory and regard
them as background noise, and do
not pay much attention to them.
The brain wave readings revealed
that babies whose mothers had gestational
diabetes reacted more to
the “standard” stimuli while babies
whose mothers were healthy reacted more
to the “oddball” stimuli.
The results were published in
peer-reviewed scientific journal
PlosOne in September.
In Singapore, gestational diabetes
affects one in five pregnant
women here–this is one of the highest
rates in the world.
Dr Anne Rifkin-Graboi, senior author
of the paper, noted that the babies
who had mothers with gestational
diabetes in the study were
not exceptionally large – babies can
become bigger than normal as a result
of the condition – which likely
meant their mothers had treatment
to control their diabetes.
“But yet we still saw a subtle effect
on the brain,” said Dr
Rifkin-Graboi, who is head of the
Agency for Science, Technology
and Research’s Neurodevelopment
“So maybe some of the risks from
what is going on with the brain development is
actually happening earlier
than the second trimester,
when the mothers are getting tested
for gestational diabetes,” she said.
More studies need to be done to
find out if a mother’s physiology at
earlier stages of pregnancy affects
brain development, and if so, perhaps
testing and treatment should
be done earlier, she pointed out.
Madam Himani Rajnikant Shah,
39, a participant of the Gusto
project, said such findings will help
future mothers to be more aware of
their health and how it could affect
their child, and make them more
cautious about their lifestyles during
“I feel satisfied being part of the
study as it makes me think about
what is important for a child’s development,
and I also feel that I am doing
my bit for society by providing
data for research that will benefit
the next generation,” said the senior
consultant at Credit Suisse bank.
Associate Professor Tan Lay Kok,
from the Singapore General
Hospital’s department of obstetrics
and gynaecology, said the finding is
interesting and gives credence to
the policy of screening for gestational
diabetes in all pregnant women.
Dr Bee Yong Mong, head of the
SingHealth Duke-NUS Diabetes
Centre, said: “The findings should
prompt pregnant women to pay
closer attention to their nutrition
and physical activities during pregnancy
to reduce their risk of developing