A woman’s body undergoes massive changes during pregnancy. Almost every organ system is affected. While a majority of the time this physiological process unfolds without complication, about ten percent of pregnant women experience some type of complication or temporary health condition associated with pregnancy.

One of these complications of pregnancy is gestational diabetes, which occurs when the pregnant body can’t keep up with the changes in insulin production required to support both the parent and the developing fetus. It affects between two and ten percent of pregnancies.

People who develop gestational diabetes are more likely to develop type two diabetes later in life, and infants born to parents with gestational diabetes are predisposed to childhood obesity.

Symptoms of gestational diabetes include high blood pressure and low blood sugar, and the risks are not limited to a mother’s health. Gestational diabetes can cause high infant birth weights leading to more complicated labors and deliveries requiring a higher degree of intervention such as cesarean section. Some research has shown that babies born to a parent with gestational diabetes may be at higher risk of developing metabolic disorders later in life.

New research has honed in on a technique to potentially catch gestational diabetes early — in the first trimester. Typically, gestational diabetes is diagnosed in the second trimester, at around 28 weeks of gestation, after the disease has already impacted the health of both the birthing parent and the baby.

Although gestational diabetes is a temporary condition related to the bodily changes pregnancy brings, it can cause lasting impacts for the health of both parent and child throughout life. Mothers-to-be with gestational diabetes are more likely to eventually develop type two diabetes, and infants born to parents with gestational diabetes are predisposed to childhood obesity.

A team of researchers at the University of Cambridge, led by Dr. Amanda Sferuzzi-Perri, investigated the placental hormone markers in mice that had been genetically bred to have gestational diabetes. They found that changes in hormone levels were predictably similar across the diabetic group compared to the control group of mice.

The team believes that similar changes in human placental hormones can be tested to identify high-risk pregnancies during the first twelve weeks of pregnancy, when early intervention might prevent the most severe impacts of gestational diseases.

“We found that around a third of the proteins we identified changed in women during pregnancies with disorders,” Steffuzzi-Perri said, in a statement. “Using a small study to test if these placental proteins will have some clinical value, we also discovered that abnormal levels of hormones were present in the mother's blood as early as the first trimester — week 12 of gestation — in women who developed gestational diabetes, a pregnancy complication usually diagnosed at 24-28 weeks.”

Researchers noted that while the relationship between placental hormones and gestational diabetes was firmly established by this study, science still lacks a full understanding of placental hormones’ potential to assist in the early detection of other gestational disorders.

Diet and exercise are key risk factors in the development of gestational diabetes, so if you are pregnant try to maintain a regular movement routine and a healthy diet. Sugary sodas and even artificially-sweetened drinks have been shown to trigger harmful blood sugar variability that stresses the pancreas and can increase the risk of gestational diabetes.

This study is published in the journal Nature.