Pregnancy is probably one of if not the most, unique times in a woman’s life. It can come with many different emotions like excitement, fear, worry, joy, and the list goes on. One thing all pregnant women can expect to experience is a change in their bodies. Some of these changes are completely natural and even necessary for a healthy pregnancy, like a growing belly, growing breasts, and some weight gain. But some changes are unwanted and can even be dangerous for you and your baby. In this blog post, I will go over one of the most common unwanted conditions that can occur during pregnancy, gestational diabetes.
Gestational diabetes is when a woman becomes diabetic during her pregnancy. Regular type 1 and 2 diabetes is caused by a decrease or lack of insulin production. Insulin is what helps glucose or sugar go into your cells and be used for energy. If there is not enough insulin to cover the amount of sugar intake, the sugar will stay in the blood and therefore not be ushered into the cells for energy production. During pregnancy, a lack of insulin production is not the issue. The most common belief as to why this condition occurs is that some of the hormones made by the placenta can have an insulin-blocking effect. This means the insulin that your body is producing is being blocked by certain hormones your placenta is making. The result is your blood sugar goes up. It is estimated that 3-8% of pregnant women are diagnosed with gestational diabetes and the diagnosis usually occurs between 24 and 28 weeks. (1)
Effects on the Baby
- A Big Baby- women with gestational diabetes typically have larger babies because the excess sugar in their blood causes the baby to gain extra fat. This can possibly lead to a C-section and even childhood obesity. (1)
- Low Blood Sugar- If the mother has had high blood sugar throughout her pregnancy, the baby will have high levels of insulin to help control their own blood sugar levels. After birth, the baby no longer has high blood sugar levels but still has high insulin levels. This causes their blood sugar to be low and usually means they have to stay in the hospital until this is resolved. (1)
- Gestational diabetes also increases the risk of having a stillborn baby or a premature baby.
- Being obese or overweight
- Have a family history of diabetes
- Personal history of diabetes or prediabetes before pregnancy
- The following races are at a higher risk. African-American, Hispanic, American Indian, Asian American, Pacific Islander
- Over the age of 25 (2)
Symptoms and Diagnosis
There are no specific symptoms related to gestational diabetes and many women who are diagnosed don’t know they have it. Due to the lack of identifiable symptoms, doctors and midwives perform a screening between 24 and 28 weeks and will monitor your blood glucose and urine throughout the pregnancy. If you have any of the risk factors listed above, they may decide to monitor you more closely and/or perform the screening earlier. (2)
Treatment & Prevention
Nutrition- The best way to help prevent gestational diabetes is to eat a healthy diet. I know this can be hard, especially when pregnant, but I will list some good places to start that you hopefully find easy to start implementing.
- Avoid processed foods as much as possible. Most processed foods like chips, crackers, baked goods, etc. are empty carbs and full of non-food products. This means they don’t actually have valuable nutrition and can cause blood sugar levels to rise because they are low in protein and fiber. (2)
- Eat well-balanced meals. When eating a meal, make sure you have protein, carbs, and fat on your plate. This could look like grilled chicken (protein), mixed veggies or baked potato (carbs), and avocado (fat). Eating proteins, fat, and carbs all together helps maintain a balanced blood sugar. (2)
- Avoid sugary drinks like soda, fruit juices, and sweetened teas. Instead opt for things like water with lemon/lime, unsweetened tea with lemon, and unsweetened soda water like topo chico. (2)
Exercise- Moderate physical activity for 30 min a day is recommended for pregnant women. Taking a 10-20 minute walk after meals can also help balance blood sugars. (2)
Calcium- Women who eat a higher amount of calcium during pregnancy have a lower risk of gestational diabetes. Foods that are high in calcium are yogurt, cheese, cooked broccoli, almonds, and leafy greens. (2)
If you do end up being diagnosed with gestational diabetes and are unable to control it with diet and exercise, below are a few treatments your doctor or midwife may recommend.
- Insulin injections- you will have to monitor your blood sugars throughout the day, especially after meals. And if they exceed a certain number, you will have to give yourself an insulin injection.
- Glyburide or Metformin- these are both prescription medications that help the body control blood sugars.
- Even if you end up having to take prescription medications or insulin injections, your doctor or midwife will also recommend making dietary changes.
Overall, the best way to prevent gestational diabetes is to take action early on in your pregnancy. Try to eat as healthy as you can and exercise when you feel up to it. If you can avoid gestational diabetes your pregnancy will be much more enjoyable and your baby will be healthier.
If you have any questions or concerns, please contact;
Nurturing Center of Lubbock
3303 66th Street
Lubbock, TX 79413
Phone: 806-780-6853 (available 24 hours)
Marlee Henn, RN
Marlee has been a nurse for two years and currently works in a functional medical clinic and part time in a long term acute care center. She has a passion for natural living, women’s health, and education.