Have you heard the term ‘gestational diabetes?’ 6% to 9% of pregnant women develop gestational diabetes, which is diabetes during pregnancy. Risk factors include:
- being over 25
- being overweight and not physically active
- having an immediate family member with diabetes
If left untreated, gestational diabetes can cause complications for both the baby and mother. Complications include increased risk of c-section, high blood pressure (preeclampsia) for the mother, premature birth, respiratory distress syndrome for the baby, and an increased risk of obesity and diabetes for the baby later in life.
The good news is that with early detection and the right tools to control blood sugar, all possible complications from gestational diabetes can be prevented.
Early Detection Matters
If you’re at average risk for gestational diabetes, your doctor will test you between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy. If you’re at a higher risk for diabetes due to being overweight or obese before pregnancy, or if you have an immediate family member with diabetes, your doctor may test you much sooner.
Screening usually includes an initial glucose challenge test, which involves drinking a syrupy glucose solution. An hour later, your blood sugar gets tested. If your blood sugar is higher than normal, you will need to take a follow-up glucose tolerance test. The follow-up glucose test involves drinking a solution containing even more sugar. Your blood is then tested every hour for three hours afterwards. If at least two of the readings are out of the normal range, you will be diagnosed with gestational diabetes.
What You Can Do to Get Ahead of Gestational Diabetes
The best time to get ahead of gestational diabetes is right away. Focus on developing good habits as soon as possible (ideally even before you become pregnant). Healthy habits will not only lower your risk of developing gestational diabetes, they will help ensure an overall healthy pregnancy for you and your baby.
For help developing good habits around maintaining a healthy weight before pregnancy, consider the Shapa scale. This unique system gives you feedback about your weight, but not in pounds. You can read more about how Shapa works here. During pregnancy, weight recommendations will be different. Be sure to check with your doctor before considering a diet or weight management plan while pregnant.
The first trimester may be a challenging time if you’re suffering from fatigue and nausea. If that’s the case, show yourself grace and compassion, and take time to rest. You need it! But if you’re feeling okay, and/or are past the first trimester, one of the best things you can do to improve blood sugar control is to add 30 minutes a day of a low impact moderate activity, like brisk walking or swimming. Make sure to clear whichever activity you choose with your doctor first.
Exercise is one of the best ways to lower your blood sugar and improve blood sugar regulation. Controlling blood sugar is a great way to prevent complications from gestational diabetes. Exercise works best to decrease risk when paired with the right diet.
Pay Attention to Food Choices
In order to avoid spikes in your blood sugar, you will want to cut down on the amounts of simple, refined carbohydrates in your diet. These include white rice, pretzels, potato chips, cookies, ice cream, soda, and juice. If you do crave these foods once in a while (and who doesn’t?), make sure to pair them with a serving of protein and some fat. Both protein and fat help mitigate blood sugar spikes, which is important to help prevent complications from gestational diabetes.
Another tip is to consume the simple, refined carbohydrates right before or right after a moderate workout. During these timing windows, your muscles soak up the sugar almost like a sponge, so your body doesn’t need to produce extra insulin to shuttle sugar into your cells. Of course, this only works to a certain degree, not for a large amount of excess sugar (like five servings of cake)! For more information about your cells, sugar, and how diabetes affects your body, check out this article.
Practice centering your meals and snacks around protein. Make it the star of the show! Protein is not only important for appetite regulation, feeling satiated, and stabilizing your blood sugar, it’s also important to support your baby’s growth.
You will also want to add complex carbohydrates such as whole grains and sprouted bread to your diet for plenty of energy. And don’t forget healthy fats, too. A quarter of an avocado or a cup of nuts is a great addition to any meal and will further help to stabilize blood sugar.
Check out some of my favorite protein, complex carb, and fat sources here!
You Got This!
Most cases of gestational diabetes can be controlled through diet and exercise. In addition to testing your own blood sugar at home, your doctor will closely monitor you to help prevent any complications. If your blood sugar remains too high, your doctor may have you add insulin injections to help manage blood sugar levels.
It’s never too soon to get ahead of gestational diabetes by getting active and working towards healthy eating habits. Do what you can – every bit matters!
Looking to sleep better, eat a bit healthier, build a practice of self-care, or just want to feel more energetic each day? Let Shapa be your virtual coach. Shapa focuses your program based on YOUR lifestyle and YOUR goals so you can build healthy habits and achieve lasting results. Learn more about the Shapa difference.
About the author:
Sharone completed her Masters of Science in Nutrition and Education at Columbia University. Having overcome her own not-so-great relationship with food, she is passionate about helping others achieve their health and weight loss goals while finding balance. She enjoys hanging out with her two daughters, husband, giant dog, and cat, especially all together when shenanigans are involved. To learn more about scheduling a nutrition counseling session with Sharone, click here. For more tips and tricks for nutritious living, check out Sharone’s Instagram and Twitter.
Check out more of Sharone’s articles on the Shapa Blog here.