About 10% of pregnancies in the United States are affected by gestational diabetes.1 It affects millions of women, so you are not alone. Unfortunately, you cannot tell you have it without getting tested and may not know it. It can be scary, but is it treatable? What does it mean for your new, precious baby? It is not because of something you did before being pregnant and it does not mean that you cannot have a healthy baby. It is often managed with a few changes to your diet and activity. To defeat gestational diabetes, follow these 6 nutritional tips to not only better your health, but also for you to have a healthy pregnancy and baby!
What is gestational diabetes?2-5
Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes or high blood sugar condition that happens during pregnancy to women that did not already have diabetes. This means your body is unable to use or store the glucose or sugar from your meals, so more stays in your blood than normal. Gestational diabetes typically happens during the second part of your pregnancy or at 24 to 28 weeks. Insulin is a hormone that is released to lower your blood sugar, but with gestational diabetes, you are not able to make or use enough of it. You need glucose for energy and your baby’s health, but too much is not good.
Although gestational diabetes does not have really symptoms other than increased thirst or urination, there are a few risk factors which include
- Had gestational diabetes during a previous pregnancy
- Given birth to a baby who weighed over 9 pounds
- Older than 25 years old
- Family history of type 2 diabetes
- Hormone disorder called polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
- African American, Hispanic/Latino American, American Indian, Alaska Native, Native Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander
However, gestational diabetes is treatable! You can keep you and your baby healthy by following a nutritious diet, increasing your activity level, and monitoring your blood sugar. Even just biking or walking 30 minutes a day is helpful to lower your blood sugar and keep a healthy weight! This will help you to have a safe and smooth delivery. If you think you are at risk, talk to your doctor before trying to become pregnant.
What type of diet should I follow if I have gestational diabetes?2, 6
The key to controlling gestational diabetes is managing your blood sugar by following a nutritious diet. Here are a few tips on how to maximize the benefits for you and your baby.
- Monitor your carbohydrates: Carbohydrates become glucose, so monitoring your intake is important. Foods like milk, soda, rice, sweets, bread, pasta, juice, potatoes, peas, and corn all have carbohydrates. Your doctor and dietitian will help you create a carbohydrate goal and demonstrate how to count your carbohydrates. You can see how many carbohydrates and sugars there are in a food by reading the Nutrition Label.
- Not all carbohydrates are equal: Try to consume more nutritious carbohydrates like whole grain bread instead of white bread, sweet potato instead of a baked potato, brown rice instead of white rice, shredded wheat cereal instead of sweet cereal like cornflakes.
- Do not forget that sodas, fruit juices, and energy drinks are high in sugar: Try to drink more water, flavored water, unsweetened tea, or use artificial sweeteners.
- Limit your sweets: You can still have your cake and eat it too, but try to stay away from cookies, pastries, and candies since they are typically high in sugar, fat, calories, and carbohydrates. When you have a ‘sweet tooth,’ fix your craving by eating fruit and low-fat yogurt, sugar-free cookies, or small amounts of dark chocolate.
- Distribute your food between 3 meals and 2 or 3 snacks per day: Eating too much at one time can increase your blood sugar, so try to divide up your food during these eating times. Remember, do not skip meals! You and your baby both require high nutritional needs.
- Breakfast is important: Since cereals and milk are sources of carbohydrates, your blood sugar after breakfast may be high. If so, try to eat protein and starch like eggs and toast for breakfast.
This may seem overwhelming, but you may find it helpful to record your meals in a food log. It is also best to measure out your servings with measuring cups when needed to make sure you do not go above your blood sugar or nutritional goals.
How does it affect my baby?3
Not only does it affect you, but also your baby. Gestational diabetes typically goes away after childbirth, but it may put your baby at risk of type 2 diabetes and obesity (remember, you can reduce the risk with activity and diet changes). After your baby is born, your doctor will monitor your baby’s blood sugar to make sure it is not too low. Gestational diabetes may increase the chance that your baby is larger than normal, or develops jaundice or yellowing of the skin. Jaundice can be treated and typically goes away after birth.
Am I likely to get type 2 diabetes?4, 7
About 50% of women with gestational diabetes develop type 2 diabetes. It will not definitely happen, but you can prevent it! Your blood sugar should become normal 6 weeks after childbirth, then you will get your blood sugar checked every three years. To lower your risk or prevent type 2 diabetes, talk with your doctor about maintaining healthy weight; eating a diet full of vegetables, fruits, lean protein, and whole grains; and increasing your activity level. If you become pregnant again, you are likely to have gestational diabetes again.
If you may be at risk or have gestational diabetes, talk with your doctor or pharmacist today about a treatment plan that is right for you and your healthy baby.
- Gestational diabetes. American Diabetes Association website. https://www.diabetes.org/diabetes/gestational-diabetes. Accessed December 21, 2021.
- Rethinking nutrition for gestational diabetes. Fullscript website. https://fullscript.com/blog/webinar-rethinking-nutrition-for-gestational-diabetes. Accessed December 21, 2021.
- Gestational diabetes. Mayo Clinic website. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gestational-diabetes/symptoms-causes/syc-20355339. Accessed December 21, 2021.
- Gestational diabetes. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/gestational.html. Accessed December 21, 2021.
- PSA: Prenatal nutrition. Penn State University website. https://sites.psu.edu/nmcnutr/2015/11/19/psa-prenatal-nutrition-2/. Accessed December 21, 2021.
- Dietary recommendations for gestational diabetes. University of California San Francisco website. https://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/dietary-recommendations-for-gestational-diabetes. Accessed December 21, 2021.
- Gestational diabetes. WebMD website. https://www.webmd.com/diabetes/gestational-diabetes. Accessed December 21, 2021.