Managing gestational diabetes: What you need to know for a healthy pregnancy

  • 3 Minutes Read
Joanna Kriehn
Joanna Kriehn, MS, RDN, CDCES - Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist (CDCES)

A diagnosis of gestational diabetes for yourself or someone you love can be unnerving and leave you with a host of questions about managing it. We have good news! Managing gestational diabetes and controlling blood sugar is possible with diet changes, exercise, and, if needed, medication.

Managing gestational diabetes

Managing gestational diabetes starts with understanding what's happening in your body

Gestational diabetes (GDM) is a type of diabetes that develops during pregnancy. It occurs when glucose or sugar levels in the mother's blood are higher than targets. High blood sugars can affect pregnancy and the baby's health.

A woman's pancreas must work much harder during pregnancy to keep up with the extra demand for insulin. For a pregnant woman without GDM, her pancreas would simply make more insulin and use it efficiently, keeping blood sugars within target range. However, with GDM, blood glucose becomes high if her pancreas cannot produce enough insulin to keep up with the increased demands.

How common is GDM, and what raises my risk?

In the United States, estimates indicate that GDM impacts about 7-9% of all pregnancies. You are at increased risk of developing GDM if you:

How will gestational diabetes impact my baby?

Please discuss with your healthcare provider the risk to your baby of poorly controlled blood sugars. It is important to be familiar with several facts. First, women with GDM often give birth to larger babies. If your baby is big, this increases the chance that your doctor will perform a cesarean section at birth.

Your baby may also have hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) immediately after birth and need to receive a sugar solution to raise it.

Both you and your child have a greater chance of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

How is gestational diabetes diagnosed?

Most pregnant women are routinely tested for GDM between weeks 24-28 of pregnancy. A standard blood test checks how well your body processes sugar amid pregnancy hormones. A previous history of GDM or other risk factors may require testing of glucose levels earlier in the pregnancy.

The most common type of test for GDM is the three-hour oral glucose tolerance test. Blood is drawn while fasting and one, two, and three hours after consuming a sweet drink containing 100g of carbohydrate. Two or more blood glucose levels above the target range indicate gestational diabetes.

Managing gestational diabetes through diet changes

Eating regular meals and snacks while reducing the number of carbohydrates you eat will help to keep sugar levels within target range. Pay attention to these commonly consumed foods with carbs: grains, fruit, juice, milk, yogurt, dried beans and peas (legumes), starchy vegetables (e.g., potatoes, corn), sugars, syrups, and sweets. Watching what, when, and how much you eat will help keep your blood sugar in target range.

Meet with a health professional for individual guidance

Following diagnosis, you'll be encouraged to meet with a diabetes care and education specialist to develop an individualized treatment plan. You will learn how to check your blood sugar levels and be provided with healthy lifestyle changes to manage blood glucose. In addition, you will receive blood sugar targets and a carbohydrate budget to follow for meals and snacks.

Suppose blood sugar levels do not fall into target range with diet and physical activity changes. In that case, prescription medications may be necessary to further lower blood sugar levels.

How to monitor gestational diabetes

The best way to know if you are eating the right balance of carbohydrates and other nutrients for your body is to keep track of carbs and blood sugar levels. Tracking takes time and energy yet helps you feel confident that you are doing the best for yourself and your baby. MyNetDiary makes it easy to track total carbs and blood sugar.

Managing gestational diabetes after baby is born

Most women find their blood sugar levels quickly return to target range after delivery. To sustain healthy blood sugar levels, make sure to eat a balanced diet and lose your excess baby weight. This is especially important to prevent or delay the development of type 2 diabetes. The American Diabetes Association suggests you see your doctor 6-12 weeks after delivery to evaluate blood sugar.

What can I do now to prevent the development of gestational diabetes?

If you are currently pregnant or planning to become pregnant, here are some dietary strategies to adopt now to reduce your risk:

-Avoid sugary drinks such as lemonade, soda, sweetened tea, and energy drinks. Low in nutritional value and high in sugar, these drinks are not nutritious.

-Avoid eating large portions of desserts, pastries, cookies, cakes, ice cream, and other items containing simple sugars. If you crave sweets, try eating a small amount and call it good.

-Limit adding large amounts of simple sugars such as honey and agave nectar, jam, jelly, or maple syrup to foods.

-Eat whole foods; examples include quinoa, oatmeal, whole meats, veggies, low-fat dairy, nuts, avocados and fruits.

-Go for a short walk after your largest meal of the day. Some women find that walking for at least five minutes after each meal is very helpful for blood sugar control.

Expectant moms want the best for their babies. With attention to food choices and their impact on blood sugar as well as regular physical activity, managing gestational diabetes is possible.

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Diabetes->Blood glucose Diabetes->Health Diabetes->Pregnancy
Oct 4, 2021
Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.

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