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.