Continuous subcutaneous insulin infusion versus multiple daily injections of insulin for pregnant women with diabetes

What is the issue?

Diabetes is a condition in which glucose (sugar) in the blood is too high because the body does not respond to insulin or not enough insulin is made. Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas, which allows glucose to enter the cells where it is used as fuel by the body.

Controlling blood sugar levels is important because levels that are too high or too low can affect the brain and other organs of the body. Poor blood sugar control in pregnant women with diabetes can lead to large babies who may then have a difficult birth. It also increases the chance of abnormalities in the baby, miscarriage, or stillbirth.

Traditionally, insulin is given as multiple daily injections (MDI), however a small pump can continuously give insulin through a fine tube under the skin (CSII).

Why is this important?

An insulin pump may help pregnant women keep their blood glucose more stable than multiple injections. It might stop the woman's blood sugar level going too high or too low, which would be better for the mother and her baby and it may be more acceptable to women. This review compared the positive and negative effects of CSII and MDI to work out which is best for mothers and infants.

What evidence did we find?

Five randomised trials involving 153 women (154 pregnancies) were included.

These trials did not report many of the outcomes we had hoped to look at. The evidence was judged to be very low quality for important outcomes (caesarean section, large-for-gestational age, perinatal mortality, and neonatal hypoglycaemia). This was because the trials were small, may not have been fair tests, and did not show a clear difference between MDI and CSII.

There were no clear differences in any of the reported outcomes between women who had insulin via a pump rather than as multiple injections. For mothers, this included caesarean section, weight gain during pregnancy, and blood sugar levels. For babies, this included the baby's weight, if they were born premature, and problems such as difficulty breathing, a low Apgar score at birth, low blood sugar, jaundice, or physical abnormalities.

In one small trial, there was no difference in the number of days mothers spent in hospital. This was the only measure of cost or use of health service resources reported.

What does this mean?

The trials did not provide enough information to know whether an insulin pump or multiple injections are better for a pregnant woman with diabetes or her baby. More research is needed, with bigger groups of women, good reporting of how the trials were undertaken, more outcomes assessed and reported, and using the latest pump technology and insulins.

Authors' conclusions: 

There is no evidence to support the use of one particular form of insulin administration over another for pregnant women with diabetes. There are only a small number of trials appropriate for meta-analysis, a small number of women included and questionable generalisability of the trial population.

Pump technology has progressed since these trials were undertaken. Well-designed randomised trials are required to evaluate comparisons such as patch pumps against MDI and more conventional CSII against MDI. These trials should be adequately powered to assess the effect of interventions, and report the core set of outcomes used in Cochrane reviews of diabetes in pregnancy. Trials to assess the effects of pumps on birthweight and macrosomia rates are needed. It would be beneficial for future trials to undertake longer-term follow-up of participants and their infants, assess women's preferences, and conduct an economic evaluation.

Read the full abstract...

Diabetes results in a rise in blood glucose above normal physiological levels; if untreated this may cause damage to many systems including the cardiovascular and renal systems. Pregnancy increases resistance to insulin action; for those women who have pre-gestational diabetes, this results in an increasing insulin requirement. There are several methods of administering insulin. Conventionally, insulin has been administered subcutaneously, formally referred to as intensive conventional treatment, but now more usually referred to as multiple daily injections (MDI). An alternative method of insulin administration is the continuous subcutaneous insulin infusion pump (CSII).


To compare CSII with MDI of insulin for pregnant women with pre-existing and gestational diabetes.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group's Trials Register (31 March 2016) and reference lists of retrieved studies.

Selection criteria: 

Randomised trials comparing CSII with MDI for pregnant women with diabetes.

Data collection and analysis: 

Three review authors independently assessed studies and two review authors extracted data. Disagreements were resolved through discussion with the third author. We assessed the quality of the evidence using the GRADE approach.

Main results: 

We included five single-centre trials (undertaken in Italy) with 153 women and 154 pregnancies in this review.

There were no clear differences in the primary outcomes reported between CSII and MDI in the included trials: caesarean section (risk ratio (RR) 1.09, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.66 to 1.77; three trials, 71 women, evidence graded very low), large-for-gestational age (RR 4.15, 95% CI 0.49 to 34.95; three trials, 73 infants; evidence graded very low), and perinatal mortality (RR 2.33, 95% CI 0.38 to 14.32; four trials, 83 infants, evidence graded very low). Other primary outcomes were not reported in these trials (hypertensive disorders of pregnancy, development of type 2 diabetes, composite outcome of serious neonatal outcomes, and neurosensory disability).

There was no clear evidence of differences in the maternal secondary outcomes: maternal weight gain during pregnancy, 24 hour mean blood glucose in each trimester, mean maternal HbA1c in each trimester, maternal hypoglycaemia, and maternal hyperglycaemia. The included studies did not report several GRADE outcomes: perineal trauma, return to pre-pregnancy weight, postnatal depression, induction of labour. Many maternal secondary outcomes were also not reported.

In two trials, including a total of 61 infants, CSII was associated with an increase in mean birthweight compared with MDI (mean difference (MD) 220.56 g, 95% CI -2.09 g to 443.20 g; P = 0.05). However, the large CI including anything from a small reduction to an increase in mean birthweight and the lack of a difference in macrosomia rate (RR 3.20, CI 0.14 to 72.62; two trials, 61 infants) suggests uncertainty. Large-for-gestational age (see above), and small-for-gestational age also suggests uncertainty of effect. No significant differences were found in: gestation at delivery, preterm birth < 37 weeks' gestation, preterm birth < 32 weeks' gestation, neonatal hypoglycaemia (evidence graded very low), respiratory distress syndrome, neonatal hyperbilirubinaemia, and fetal anomaly. There were no data reported on many important infant outcomes, including the GRADE outcomes adiposity and diabetes. There was no follow-up of infants in childhood or adulthood, so longer-term outcomes were not reported.

The only outcome reported for use of health service resources was maternal days hospitalised, which did not show a difference between groups in the small number of women included (MD 9.40, CI -6.04 to 24.84; one trial, 10 women).

The methods used by the trials were poorly reported, for example although blinding of participants and clinicians regarding intervention allocation is impossible, it is possible to blind assessors and this along with other aspects of trial methods was not reported, which means that the trials are at an unclear or high risk of bias. We do not know if the women who participated were representative, and therefore if the results can be generalised. Most GRADE outcomes were not reported. For the GRADE outcomes that were reported, our assessment was that the evidence is very low quality (caesarean section, large-for-gestational age, perinatal mortality, and neonatal hypoglycaemia). This was due to design limitations in the included trials, small sample sizes in the trials contributing data, wide CIs crossing both the line of no effect and the line of appreciable benefit and/or harm, and often few events. We are therefore uncertain whether CSII or MDI improves outcomes for pregnant women with diabetes and their infants, and the results of further studies may differ substantially from those presented in this review.