It’s difficult enough being pregnant without being afflicted by another major health condition like gestational diabetes. How is gestational diabetes the same or different from regular diabetes? Gestational diabetes is diagnosed only during pregnancy; however, it affects the body in the same way by altering how a woman’s body processes sugar and produces enough insulin.
According to the American Diabetes Association, about 10% of pregnant women in the United States are afflicted by gestational diabetes. But there is no real rhyme or reason as to the cause of the condition. Experts have identified a few risk factors that may play a part including excess weight, sedentary lifestyle, a history of gestational diabetes and polycystic ovarian syndrome. Unfortunately, minority women are also at a higher risk.
Gestational diabetes typically does not come with any symptoms, and most expectant mothers find it through routine blood tests required for pregnancies. For many who are diagnosed, it may be shocking.
“I was diagnosed halfway into my second trimester. Finding out I had gestational diabetes was hard at first. I felt like I had failed my baby, not taking care of myself the way I ‘thought’ that I should. I had never had this condition with previous pregnancies,” said Mary Allen, a local mother. The American Diabetes Association tells mothers not to feel guilt for this condition.
“Know that it doesn’t mean that you had diabetes before you conceived or that you will have diabetes after you give birth. It means that, by working with your doctor, you can have a healthy pregnancy and a healthy baby,” the ADA says.
What does the condition mean for your pregnancy? Mothers should work closely with their obstetricians to develop a plan to treat and keep their diabetes under control. This means eating nutritious foods and avoiding sugary and starchy foods, exercise and possible medication intervention. University of California-San Francisco (UCSF) Health advises mothers to monitor carbohydrates, which can be found in breads and crackers, fruit and juice, dairy and yogurt, and starchy vegetables like potatoes, squash and peas.
“I had to meet with a dietician and an endocrinologist. I changed how I ate and mostly cut out carbs and starches and ate things that were high in protein,” said local mother Katie Edmond. “I only ate very small amounts of fruits as well. I started to monitor everything I ate along with checking my blood sugar four times a day, which included fasting in the morning, after breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
UCSF Health also recommends that mothers space their meals out over three meals and two snacks a day so you don’t consume too much blood sugar at once. Limit fruit and dairy intake and avoid added sugars.
Even with the best diet, insulin injections may be recommended for some expectant mothers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise mothers that this insulin is safe for both mom and baby.
“As my pregnancy progressed, I did need insulin for a few weeks. Both my OB and endocrinologist were great with helping me learn to manage and have a healthy pregnancy,” Allen said.
What does gestational diabetes mean for your baby? It can put the baby at risk for a higher birth weight, earlier birth or respiratory distress. Gestational diabetes that is not treated correctly can also result in a stillbirth. However, as long as expectant mothers are working closely with their obstetrician and other health care providers and following their guidelines, they should have a healthy pregnancy.
“My advice to other moms is to do everything you can to make this a lifestyle change, eat healthy, exercise and watch your numbers,” Edmond said. “Don’t beat yourself up over this. It’s not because you love cake and cookies that this happened to you. If you end up on insulin, that’s okay, too. You are doing everything in your power to keep your little one safe!”
*Always consult your doctor if you have any concerns about your health.