The first guidelines on physical activity and exercise for pregnant women were released yesterday in a bid to curb the high rate of gestational diabetes here.
Gestational diabetes (GDM) is on the rise globally due to increasing childbearing age as well as pre-existing diabetes and obesity in pregnancy, said Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Health, on the sidelines of a diabetes conference at KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH).
About 20 per cent of pregnant mothers in Singapore develop GDM. This is much higher than the estimated global figure of about 7 to 10 per cent, said Dr Serene Thain, an associate consultant at KKH's department of maternal fetal medicine, at the same event where the guidelines were unveiled.
"Of these, about 20 to 50 per cent of them may go on to develop Type 2 diabetes in the next five to 10 years", she said.
Excessive weight gain increases the risk of GDM, experts say.
Dr Khor noted that despite evidence suggesting that regular exercise during pregnancy reduces the risk of gestational diabetes, pregnant women tend to be less active due to physical, psychological and cultural barriers.
If not detected or well managed, GDM can lead to adverse consequences such as caesarean section, foetal macrosomia, stillbirth and risk of developing Type 2 diabetes later in life, not just for the mother but for the child as well, she said.
Professor Tan Kok Hian, the head and senior consultant of the Perinatal Audit and Epidemiology Unit at KKH, said babies of obese mothers are at an increased risk of being stillborn, with congenital malformations, or with macrosomia, which describes a newborn who is significantly larger than average, or 3.8kg and above in Singapore.
Contrary to popular thinking, studies have shown that exercise does not raise pregnancy complications, said Prof Tan, who is also the lead principal investigator for the Integrated Platform for Research in Advancing Metabolic Health Outcomes in Women and Children, which supports the guidelines.
The guidelines, which state that healthy women with uncomplicated pregnancies should engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week, among other recommendations, will be distributed to all obstetricians and gynaecologists practising in Singapore.
They were developed by a committee of healthcare professionals and clinicians, including specialists from KKH.