Soft drinks have become a staple of diets in both wealthy and poorer countries.  Now research shows that calories from those sugary drinks might increase a woman's risk of developing diabetes while she's pregnant. 

In the United States, beverages supply close to 20 percent of the calories people consume every day.  Most of those calories come from sugary soft drinks. 

Liwei Chen, a researcher from Louisiana State University, says all that sugar is a problem because it contributes to obesity and life threatening conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.  Chen suspected that women in the habit of consuming lots of sugary drinks might be increasing their risk of gestational diabetes. 

"Gestational diabetes is a special condition among women who do not have a diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes before pregnancy, but, you know, have glucose intolerance during pregnancy," Chen says.

This inability to process sugar normally is not only a problem for the expectant mother.  It also creates problems for the baby. It's one of the most important causes of complications before and during birth.

So Chen looked at data from a study of more than 13,000 women.  The women were asked about what they ate and drank.  After they became pregnant, researchers monitored their health for about ten years.

"And what we found is those women who had habitual intake of higher sugar-sweetened beverages have a much higher risk of gestational diabetes as compared to those women who consume very low amounts of those beverages," Chen says.

The women at higher risk drank about five sugary drinks a week.  Even though this level falls below the average consumption in the U.S. and many other countries, it still presents a problem.  Chen concluded that a woman who consumes this much sugar, even before she gets pregnant, puts herself and her baby at risk during the pregnancy. 

"So those women are pretty healthy before the pregnancy, but they develop the diabetes during the pregnancy," she says.

Chen adds many factors affect health that people cannot control, such as a familial pre-disposition to diabetes.  But she says diet is something that people can change, and changing diets can help women stay healthier during pregnancy.

Chen published her paper in the journal Diabetes Care.