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Comparative impact of pharmacological treatments for gestational diabetes on neonatal anthropometry independent of maternal glycaemic control: A systematic review and meta-analysis

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Tarry-Adkins, Jane L.  ORCID logo
Aiken, Catherine E.  ORCID logo
Ozanne, Susan E. 


Background: Fetal growth in gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) is directly linked to maternal glycaemic control; however, this relationship may be altered by oral anti-hyperglycaemic agents. Unlike insulin, such drugs cross the placenta and may thus have independent effects on fetal or placental tissues. We investigated the association between GDM treatment and fetal, neonatal, and childhood growth. Methods and findings: PubMed, Ovid Embase, Medline, Web of Science,, and Cochrane databases were systematically searched (inception to 12 February 2020). Outcomes of GDM-affected pregnancies randomised to treatment with metformin, glyburide, or insulin were included. Studies including preexisting diabetes or nondiabetic women were excluded. Two reviewers independently assessed eligibility and risk of bias, with conflicts resolved by a third reviewer. Maternal outcome measures were glycaemic control, weight gain, and treatment failure. Offspring anthropometric parameters included fetal, neonatal, and childhood weight and body composition data. Thirty-three studies (n = 4,944), from geographical locations including Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Australia/New Zealand, and the United States/Latin America, met eligibility criteria. Twenty-two studies (n = 2,801) randomised women to metformin versus insulin, 8 studies (n = 1,722) to glyburide versus insulin, and 3 studies (n = 421) to metformin versus glyburide. Eleven studies (n = 2,204) reported maternal outcomes. No differences in fasting blood glucose (FBS), random blood glucose (RBS), or glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c) were reported. No studies reported fetal growth parameters. Thirty-three studies (n = 4,733) reported birth weight. Glyburide-exposed neonates were heavier at birth (58.20 g, 95% confidence interval [CI] 10.10–106.31, p = 0.02) with increased risk of macrosomia (odds ratio [OR] 1.38, 95% CI 1.01–1.89, p = 0.04) versus neonates of insulin-treated mothers. Metformin-exposed neonates were born lighter (−73.92 g, 95% CI −114.79 to −33.06 g, p < 0.001) with reduced risk of macrosomia (OR 0.60, 95% CI 0.45–0.79, p < 0.001) than insulin-exposed neonates. Metformin-exposed neonates were born lighter (−191.73 g, 95% CI −288.01 to −94.74, p < 0.001) with a nonsignificant reduction in macrosomia risk (OR 0.32, 95% CI 0.08–1.19, I2 = 0%, p = 0.09) versus glyburide-exposed neonates. Glyburide-exposed neonates had a nonsignificant increase in total fat mass (103.2 g, 95% CI −3.91 to 210.31, p = 0.06) and increased abdominal (0.90 cm, 95% CI 0.03–1.77, p = 0.04) and chest circumferences (0.80 cm, 95% CI 0.07–1.53, p = 0.03) versus insulin-exposed neonates. Metformin-exposed neonates had decreased ponderal index (−0.13 kg/m3, 95% CI −0.26 to −0.00, p = 0.04) and reduced head (−0.21, 95% CI −0.39 to −0.03, p = 0.03) and chest circumferences (−0.34 cm, 95% CI −0.62 to −0.05, p = 0.02) versus the insulin-treated group. Metformin-exposed neonates had decreased ponderal index (−0.09 kg/m3, 95% CI −0.17 to −0.01, p = 0.03) versus glyburide-exposed neonates. Study limitations include heterogeneity in dosing, heterogeneity in GDM diagnostic criteria, and few studies reporting longitudinal growth outcomes. Conclusions: Maternal randomisation to glyburide resulted in heavier neonates with a propensity to increased adiposity versus insulin- or metformin-exposed groups. Metformin-exposed neonates were lighter with reduced lean mass versus insulin- or glyburide-exposed groups, independent of maternal glycaemic control. Oral anti-hyperglycaemics cross the placenta, so effects on fetal anthropometry could result from direct actions on the fetus and/or placenta. We highlight a need for further studies examining the effects of intrauterine exposure to antidiabetic agents on longitudinal growth, and the importance of monitoring fetal growth and maternal glycaemic control when treating GDM. This review protocol was registered with PROSPERO (CRD42019134664/CRD42018117503).


Funder: Isaac Newton Trust/Wellcome Trust ISSF/ University of Cambridge Joint Research Grant


Research Article, Medicine and health sciences, Biology and life sciences, Research and analysis methods, Physical sciences

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PLOS Medicine

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Public Library of Science
British Heart Foundation (RG/17/12/33167)
Medical Research Council (MC_ UU_12012/4)