While all else may be going just fine, some expecting mothers start developing high blood sugar levels between the 24th and 28th weeks of pregnancy. This is known as gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM). Similar to other types of diabetes, gestational diabetes affects how your cells use sugar (glucose).
Up to 9.2 percent of pregnant women suffer from this problem, according to a 2014 analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, it is recommended that all women get tested for gestational diabetes at the beginning of the third trimester.
The exact cause of GDM is unknown, but the hormonal changes during pregnancy play a key role. During pregnancy, the body produces larger amounts of some hormones like human placental lactogen, estrogen and hormones that increase insulin resistance.
These hormones affect your placenta and also interfere with the action of insulin, the hormone that regulates your blood sugar.
Women over the age of 25 who suffer from high blood pressure, have a family history of diabetes and were overweight before becoming pregnant are at a higher risk of developing GDM.
Also, women who have previously given birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds or had an unexplained miscarriage or stillbirth are at a higher risk.
Some of the mild symptoms of gestational diabetes may include fatigue, blurred vision, excessive thirst and excessive need to urinate.
Developing GDM during pregnancy doesn’t mean that you will have diabetes after delivery. In most cases, the blood sugar levels of pregnant women with gestational diabetes tend to return to normal within a few hour or days post delivery.
However, it is recommended that women who had gestational diabetes during pregnancy get tested for diabetes every 2 to 3 years as they are at an increased risk for developing Type 2 diabetes.
As gestational diabetes occurs in late pregnancy after the baby’s body has been formed, it does not cause the kinds of birth defects that can be seen in babies born to mothers who had diabetes before pregnancy.
However, untreated or poorly controlled gestational diabetes can lead to macrosomia, or a “fat” baby. Babies with macrosomia can have very low blood glucose levels at birth or suffer from breathing problems. Such babies are at risk for obesity and Type 2 diabetes in the future.
Gestational diabetes can be controlled and treated with lifestyle and dietary changes and medicines, in some instances.
Here are the top 10 ways to deal with gestational diabetes during pregnancy.
1. Monitor Blood Sugar Level Regularly
In order to reduce the risk of complications from gestational diabetes, it is important to keep a close eye on your blood sugar level.
Check your fasting and postprandial (post-meal) blood sugar levels several times each day.
You’ll need a diabetes kit that includes needles to prick your finger, test strips and a little machine called a meter that reads your blood sugar.
After pricking your finger, squeeze a drop of the blood onto a test strip and insert it into the meter. Within a few seconds, the machine will display your sugar level. Check with your health insurance company to see if it will pay some or all of the cost of the kit.
Check your blood sugar level first thing in the morning to get your fasting rate and then two hours after eating your first meal. Also, check your blood sugar level an hour after you eat each subsequent meal to make sure your blood sugar stays in a healthy range.
Your fasting blood sugar level should be less than 95 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL), while your two-hour postprandial blood sugar goal should be less than 120 mg/dL. Your one-hour postprandial blood sugar goal should be less than 130 mg/dL.
If your sugar level is high, consult your doctor immediately.
2. Eat a Healthy Breakfast
It’s very important to eat a healthy breakfast. Skipping breakfast is a big NO for pregnant women.
Not eating anything for several hours can make it difficult to control your blood sugar level in the morning because of fluctuations in hormone levels.
On the other hand, eating a good breakfast can help regulate your blood sugar levels throughout the morning. A low glycemic index breakfast that consists of starch plus protein is a good option.
Porridge, oatmeal, eggs, whole-grain cereals and low-fat yogurt are good choices. Another good option is to drink a glass of spinach juice daily for breakfast.
Refined cereals, white bread, fruits and even milk should be avoided in the morning meal.
3. Eat the Right Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are an important part of any kind of diabetes diet, including GDM. Carbohydrates provide the fuel for your body and for your growing baby.
But before including carbohydrate-rich foods in your diet, it is important to remember that not all carbohydrates are beneficial.
Complex carbohydrates break down to more valuable forms of sugar, which are harder to digest. These carbohydrates have less impact on the insulin fluctuations in the body. Hence, when suffering from gestational diabetes, eat more complex carbohydrates to help manage your blood sugar levels.
Complex carbohydrates are found in foods like peas, legumes, beans, oats, quinoa, okra, carrots and whole grains.
At the same time, avoid simple carbohydrates found in white bread and empty carbohydrates found in junk food completely during the pregnancy period.
Make sure to spread out your carbohydrate intake over your meals and snacks throughout the day.
4. Eat High-Fiber Foods
To keep your blood sugar level normal, it is important to increase your fiber intake. Fiber stimulates the activity of insulin receptors and inhibits the release of excess insulin into the bloodstream, thus helping to balance the blood sugar level.
Fiber-rich foods also tend to have a low glycemic index.
In fact, fiber should be a part of your regular diet anyways, due to its key digestive and cardiovascular benefits for your health.
A 2006 study published in Diabetes Care suggested that a woman’s prepregnancy diet might be associated with her GDM risk. In particular, a diet with low fiber and high glycemic load was associated with an increased risk.
Eat foods high in fiber and low in fat and calories. Such foods include fresh low glycemic index fruit and vegetables, whole-grain breads and cereals, and dried peas, beans and pulses.
5. Do Some Exercise
Regardless of whether you have gestational diabetes, regular exercise during pregnancy is important.
Along with preventing a sedentary lifestyle and unhealthy weight gain during pregnancy, it helps improve glucose metabolism and reduces insulin resistance.
As an added benefit, exercise can help relieve some common discomforts of pregnancy, including back pain, muscle cramps, swelling, constipation and trouble sleeping. It will also prepare you mentally and physically for the birth of your baby.
Walking is the best exercise when you are pregnant, but make sure never to exert yourself. Incorporate more walking into your day by walking to the local shops instead of driving, walking in an open garden or park, and moving around while using the phone.
Note: Before starting or continuing any form of physical activity during pregnancy, always consult with your obstetrician or midwife.
6. Opt for a Sugar-Free Diet
No matter how much you have a craving for something sweet, you must be strong enough to survive the last few months of your pregnancy without sugary foods.
Avoid all kinds of sugary products, including sweets, desserts, ice cream, cookies, candies, baked products and sweet fruits like mangoes or bananas. Additionally, avoid all regular sodas and sugar-sweetened beverages like packaged fruit juices. These items often contain large amounts of sugr and calories but offer very little in terms of nutrition.
Following a no-sugar diet will significantly help you manage your blood sugar levels.
However, to satisfy your cravings, you can use artificial sweeteners instead of added sugars. Aspartame and sucralose are artificial sweeteners that have been approved as safe to eat during pregnancy. However, avoid sugar alcohols like sorbitol and xylitol.
7. Drink Cinnamon Tea
There are several components in cinnamon that promote glucose metabolism. The bioactive components have a beneficial effect on fasting plasma glucoseas well as low-density lipoproteins (LDL) cholesterol, high-density lipoproteins (HDL) cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
This spice is safe to take during pregnancy. Just ½ teaspoon of cinnamon powder daily can reduce fasting blood sugar levels and increase insulin sensitivity.
- Drink cinnamon tea at least once daily. To make the tea, steep a medium-sized cinnamon stick in hot water for 10 minutes and then drink the refreshing tea.
- You can also sprinkle some cinnamon powder in your oatmeal, smoothies and yogurt or add it to chicken or fish dishes.
Note: Do not take cinnamon in excess as it may cause involuntary contractions. Plus, there are certain compounds in this spice that may be toxic for your baby, when taken in excess. Check with your doctor before taking this herb medicinally.
8. Sleep Well
During pregnancy, it is common to feel fatigued and exhausted due to hormonal changes in the body. The level of fatigue and exhaustion can be much higher if you have GDM.
To help your body handle fatigue and tiredness, always listen to your body and get adequate rest and sleep. Proper sleep will help in the development of the unborn baby and provide you the much-needed energy for labor and delivery.
When pregnant, try to sleep on your left side with your knees bent. This will reduce the strain on your back, which often leads to disturbed sleep.
During the daytime also, get proper rest. A relaxing nap for 30 minutes a few times during the day can help fight fatigue.
Bear in mind that too much or too little sleep may contribute to raising your blood glucose levels.
9. Manage Stress
If you’ve been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, there is no need to worry much about it. With proper care and treatment, nothing is going to happen to your unborn baby.
On the other hand, worrying all the time about the health of your unborn baby will increase your stress level.
Too much stress can cause an increase in cortisol levels, which can affect the unborn baby’s health. Stress can also make expecting mothers overwhelmed and fatigued, which in turn impacts sleep.
Also, stress can cause premature labor due to the release of contraction-triggering hormones. Hence, it is important to keep your stress level under control.
Learn and practice meditation, such as slow, deep breathing, to manage stress. Also, you can talk about your fears and problems with your partner, family, friends and your doctor.
10. Take Prescribed Medicine as Directed
Last but not the least, if your doctor has prescribed medicine to help manage your gestational diabetes, it is important to take it as directed.
Between 10 and 20 percent of women with gestational diabetes need insulin to keep their blood sugar levels under control. Your doctor may prescribe oral insulin or insulin injections.
Never forget to take your medicine, as missing even a single dose can have a severe effect on your blood sugar level. This in turn can be bad for the child growing in your womb.
Along with diabetes medicine, you should take your iron and calcium supplements as directed by your doctor. Supplements are important for you and the health of your baby.
- Throughout the day, eat smaller portions of food more often. Choose foods that are varied so that you can enjoy each and every meal.
- Include more green leafy vegetables in your diet.
- Eat low glycemic index fruits, such as apples, guava, oranges, watermelon and so on.
- Limit the amount of fat you eat, particularly saturated fat. Use healthy fats in your cooking like olive oil and polyunsaturated oils, and eat foods with healthy fats like avocados and unsalted nuts.
- Eat two small servings of protein each day, as protein is important for the growth of the baby.
- Include two or three servings of low-fat, calcium-rich foods in your diet each day.
- The best drink for your body is water. Plain mineral water with fresh lemon or lime is effective at keeping your body hydrated.
- Closely monitor the movement of your baby. If you do not feel any movement for a couple of hours, see your doctor immediately.