You may be familiar with diabetes, but what about gestational diabetes? Gestational diabetes is diagnosed for the first time during pregnancy and can affect your pregnancy if not appropriately controlled. According to the American Diabetes Association nearly 10% of pregnancies in the United States are affected by gestational diabetes every year.
You may have heard of the famous “sugar drink” that expecting mothers take at approximately 24-28 weeks to check for gestational diabetes. This test is called the oral glucose tolerance test, and entails testing how your body uses glucose over time. After an overnight fast, you will get your fasting blood glucose tested, followed by the consumption of a syrupy glucose solution, and more blood glucose tests. This is an important test in order to diagnose gestational diabetes before it affects the baby. Untreated, gestational diabetes can increase the risk of excessive birth weight, obesity and type 2 diabetes in the child later, but also preterm birth, stillbirth and others.
The exact cause of gestational diabetes is unkown, but various hormone changes may make it harder to keep blood sugar levels normal. Some women are at a greater risk for gestational diabetes based on the following: being overweight or obese, lack of physical activity, previous diagnosis of gestational diabetes or prediabetes, polycystic ovary syndrome, and diabetes in an immediate family member.
What’s The Treatment?
If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, you can work with your doctor and a registered dietitian to maintain a healthy pregnancy. Treatment of gestational diabetes includes efforts to maintain normal levels of blood glucose, also known as blood sugar. This may include regular physical activity, dietary changes such as the type and timing of your food intake, daily blood sugar testing, and possibly medications and/or insulin injections.
If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, there are a few lifestyle changes that will help maintain a normal blood glucose. These activities include regular physical activity and a well-balanced diet. Foods that will help maintain a normal blood glucose include high fiber foods such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. If approved by your doctor, regular physical activity of at least 30 minutes each day or 150 minutes each week is also recommended. If you’re planning on getting pregnant, starting at a healthy weight and not gaining weight too quickly can help decrease your risk for gestational diabetes. If you’re not sure how much weight you should gain with your pregnancy, ask your doctor or a registered dietitian.
Healthful Eating Tips to Manage Diabetes:
- Limit foods and drinks that are high in added sugars
- Select smaller portions, spread out over the day
- Choose food items high in fiber such as whole grains, fruits and vegetables, which will help limit refined carbohydrates.
- Follow the USDA MyPlate Guidelines
- Make half your grains whole grains
- Move to low-fat or fat free dairy products
- Focus on whole fruits
- Vary your veggies
- Vary your protein routine
- Limit solid fats such as saturated fat and focus on consuming healthy fats contained in foods such as avocados, salmon, nuts, seeds, olive and canola oil
- Consume less sodium, some common contributers to sodium intake are:
- Snack and convenience foods such as crackers and chips
- Deli meats
- Frozen dinners
- Fast food and restaurant foods
- Canned foods (look for reduced or low sodium options)
- Sauces (BBQ, soy sauce, ketchup, mustard, etc.)
Gestational diabetes often goes away after the baby is born. However, women who develop this type of diabetes are at greater risk for Type 2 diabetes later in life, so it is important to continue these healthy lifestyle habits after your baby is delivered.
Written By: Shelley Balls, University of Wyoming Extension- Nutrition and Food Safety Educator