Babies of women with diabetes are nearly five times as likely to be stillborn as those of women without the condition, according to a study published today.

Research in England, Wales and Northern Ireland has also shown the babies are nearly three times more likely to die in their first month of life as babies born to women without the condition. Twice as many babies of women with diabetes were born with major congenital malformations such as neural tube and heart defects, the Confidential Inquiry into Maternal and Child Health further showed.

Of the 2,356 babies born between March 2002 and February 2003 to women with type 1 and type 2 diabetes, there were 63 stillbirths, and a further 22 babies who died before they were four weeks old. Women with diabetes also had a high rate of obstetric intervention, including a higher Caesarean rate, and a higher pre-term delivery rate than normal.

The results have prompted a call for better pre-pregnancy counselling services for women with diabetes and a greater awareness of the risks of the condition.

Diabetes affects about one in every 250 pregnancies. Experts in particular are warning type 2 diabetes is becoming more common among pregnant women.

Type 2 cases reported to the study represented 27 per cent of all cases of diabetes in pregnancy. Being overweight or obese is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes.

The condition disproportionately affects ethnic minority women and women from disadvantaged backgrounds. Nearly half of the type 2 cases in the study came from black, Asian and other ethnic minority groups, with women of Pakistani origin accounting for 15.7 per cent of cases.

Women with type 2 were unlikely to have had pre-conception counselling, had low levels of testing of blood sugar before pregnancy and low take-up of folic acid supplements.

The findings are seen as a disappointment after the 1989 St Vincent declaration, which set a five-year target to achieve similar pregnancy outcomes for women with diabetes to those without the condition.

Women with diabetes can significantly reduce the risk to their babies through seeking medical help in advance of pregnancy, maintaining good control over blood sugar levels during pregnancy and taking folic acid up until the 12th week.

Douglas Smallwood, of Diabetes UK, said: "We have known about the risks to babies for a long time. Sadly, we are making little progress."