Have you recently been diagnosed with gestational diabetes? If so, your doctor has likely told you that your blood sugar is too high, and if left untreated it could lead to pregnancy complications. If you haven’t been diagnosed but are looking for ways to reduce your risk for gestational diabetes, I have you covered!
In this article, I will discuss what gestational diabetes is, how it is diagnosed, and how to reduce your risk for gestational diabetes through dietary and lifestyle changes.
WHAT IS GESTATIONAL DIABETES?
Like other types of diabetes, gestational diabetes affects how your cells use sugar (glucose). Normally, various hormones (such as insulin) work to keep your blood sugar levels in check. But during pregnancy, hormone levels change, making it harder for your body to process blood sugar efficiently. This makes your blood sugar rise.
MATERNAL COMPLICATIONS OF HIGH BLOOD SUGAR DURING PREGNANCY
Although not all pregnancies have symptoms from gestational diabetes, there can be complications associated with high blood sugar levels during pregnancy such as:
- Hypertension (Preeclampsia)
- Polyhydramnios (Excess amniotic fluid)
- Difficult Birth
- Pre-term delivery (before 38 weeks gestation)
- High rate of cesarian sections
- Risk for developing diabetes after giving birth
HOW IS GESTATIONAL DIABETES DIAGNOSED?
Sometime between the 24th and 28th week of pregnancy you will be screened for gestational diabetes. You’ll head to your OB/Midwives office or to a lab and they will give you a syrupy liquid to drink called Glucola. After a certain amount of time has passed (usually 1 hour) your blood sugar levels will be tested. Based on the results of your blood sugar levels, your doctor will determine if you have (or are at risk for) gestational diabetes and may require additional testing.
Pro Tip: If you are concerned about drinking Glucola ask your provider if you can use an alternative such as The Fresh Test glucose drink -OR- Azer Scientific glucose drink in flavor Simply Pure. Some providers may even let you use a glucose home monitor to rule out gestational diabetes.
I also encourage women who suspect they may be at an increased risk for gestational diabetes to request a hemoglobin A1C test in the first trimester, ideally at the first prenatal visit (or even better, when trying to conceive). An elevated hemoglobin A1C in the first trimester can be an early predictor for gestational diabetes and may help you identify blood sugar problems at the start of your pregnancy, so you can start taking action right away!
BALANCING BLOOD SUGAR
Balancing meals can really help control blood sugar imbalances. Always include protein and healthy fats with every meal and alongside carbohydrates. Avoid eating carbohydrates alone as they could make your blood sugar spike. Eating mostly complex carbohydrates instead of simple carbohydrates will help too. Keeping in mind how much fiber is in your carbohydrates will indicate if you are consuming food that is better for blood sugar balance. The higher the fiber, the better! Lastly, be sure to eat regularly to maintain a healthy blood sugar balance!
REDUCING YOUR RISK FOR GESTATIONAL DIABETES
- Eat healthy foods. Choose foods high in fiber and rich in micronutrients. Focus on fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains, fermented dairy or vegetables, healthy fats, and proteins including pasture-raised eggs and wild-caught fatty fish. Watch portion sizes, and don’t overdo it on the processed snacks that are high in sugar and sodium. Eat small meals often vs. only eating three large meals a day. Additionally, make sure you are getting enough vitamin D to maintain healthy lab levels. All of this will help your body better control glucose levels.
- Keep active. Exercising before and during pregnancy can help protect you from developing gestational diabetes. Aim for 30 minutes of moderate activity on most days of the week. Take a brisk daily walk. Ride your bike. Swim laps. Short bursts of activity — such as parking further away from the store when you run errands or taking a short walk break — all add up. Ask your doctor what types of exercise will work for you!
- Gain a healthy amount of weight, considering the above factors. Gaining some weight during pregnancy is normal and healthy. But gaining too much weight too quickly can up your risk of gestational diabetes. Eating a nutrient-dense diet and moving your body regularly will help you achieve an appropriate amount of weight. Ask your doctor what a reasonable amount of weight gain is for you.
If you’ve been diagnosed with gestational diabetes during pregnancy, know that you don’t have to navigate this alone! Working with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who can support your pregnancy journey through evidence-based practices can help reduce your risk for developing complications from gestational diabetes and lower your risk for future complications. If you’re ready to have additional support and nutrition guidance for managing your blood sugars this pregnancy, click here to apply for coaching and I will reach out to you soon!
- Gestational diabetes. Mayoclinic.org. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gestational-diabetes/symptoms-causes/syc-20355339.
- Nelms M, Sucher K. Nutrition Therapy and Pathophysiology Book Only. 4th ed. Florence, KY: Brooks/Cole; 2019.
- The Fresh Test. The Fresh Test 50g beverage (single). Thefreshtest.com. https://thefreshtest.com/collections/all/products/the-fresh-test-50g-beverage-single.
- Glucose Drink, simply pure. Azerscientific.com. https://www.azerscientific.com/Glucose-Drink-simply-pure.
- Hughes, Ruth CE, et al. “An early pregnancy HbA1c >5.9% (41 mmol/mol) is optimal for detecting diabetes and identifies women at increased risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes.” Diabetes Care 37.11 (2014): 2953-2959