What is Gestational Diabetes?
Gestational diabetes (or GD) is diabetes that’s diagnosed for the first time during pregnancy. Similar to other types of diabetes, gestational diabetes impacts how your cells use blood sugar (glucose).
And while gestational diabetes does cause high blood sugar that can affect pregnancy and a baby's health, there is good news, however. Women who are expecting can help control gestational diabetes by eating healthy foods, exercising, and, when needed, by taking medication.
Being in control of blood sugar can keep you and your baby healthy and prevent a difficult delivery. In fact, in women who have gestational diabetes, blood sugar usually goes back to normal soon after delivery. But if you've had gestational diabetes, you are at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. You'll need to be tested more frequently for changes in blood sugar.
What Are the Risk Factors for GD?
Scientists aren’t absolutely sure why some women develop gestational diabetes and others don't but overweight prior to pregnancy very often a factor.
In addition, there are some other risk factors for gestational diabetes that we are aware of:
- Not enough physical activity.
- Previous incidence of gestational diabetes or pre-diabetes.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome.
- Diabetes is a member of the immediate family (like a mother or sister).
- Previously delivering a baby that weighed more than 9 pounds.
- Being of a non-white race. Those women who are black, American Indian, Asian American or Pacific Islanders and those of Hispanic ancestry are at an elevated risk of getting gestational diabetes.
Some scientists also believe that other factors appear to also factor in for GD risk, including being pregnant over age 35; short stature; experiencing hypertension or pre-eclampsia in the current pregnancy, and a history of recurrent miscarriages.
Pregnancy, Glucose Levels and Gestational Diabetes
When a woman is pregnant, her body will produce more hormones and she can gain weight. Sometimes these changes can cause the body’s cells to use insulin less efficiently than before. This is known as insulin resistance.
In addition to metabolic syndrome and gestational diabetes, many other conditions are linked to insulin resistance, including polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS). Insulin resistance impacts about 50 to 70 percent of women with PCOS and women with PCOS are at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
When the body and its pancreas cannot produce enough insulin to match its needs, a buildup of sugar in the blood can occur. For most women, diet and exercise can help control this possible weight gain and buildup of sugar in the blood.
The Importance of Diet
Once diagnosed with GD, eating according to a gestational diabetes meal plan can help protect a woman’s baby from potential complications of GD.
Although the same meal plan works for every mom-to-be who has GD, the most important thing is to pay attention to the number of carbohydrates that are consumed in relation to protein and fats. Carbs make blood sugar spike the most and should be limited.
In general, a diet for women with gestational diabetes should include a balanced meal and snack that includes carbohydrates, lean protein, and healthy fat. Food that is generally preferred as lean protein includes fish, poultry, tofu, and beans.
Expectant women can help maintain healthy glucose levels by eating the right foods, exercising, and in select cases, taking medication. The following advice is good to keep in mind:
Eat nutritious foods. Select foods that are high in fiber and low in fat and calories. Focus on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Aim for variety to help you achieve your goals without sacrificing taste or nutrition.
Especially, aim for foods that are low-glycemic to support blood sugar management. Low-glycemic foods are "carby" foods like fruit and vegetables that either contain or are eaten with a high protein, fiber, and/or fat food can help slow down the absorption of sugar in the bloodstream.
For GD moms, who are looking for supplemental support. Almased is a low-glycemic high-protein shake, that can be consumed as a supplement or snack once per day as a part of a healthy diet. Almased not only contains amino acids to help with tissue growth but also iron to support blood flow and fetal development. Ask your doctor if a supplement like Almased will be beneficial to you.
Keep an eye on portion sizes, but stay away from zero-carb dieting as the body does need a balanced amount of carbohydrates during pregnancy.
Stay active. Doing regular physical activity before and during pregnancy can help. Shoot for 30 minutes of moderate activity several days a week. Go on a brisk daily walk. Ride your bike. Remember that small steps each day, like parking farther away, can add up too.
Try to start pregnancy at a healthy weight. If you’re trying to get pregnant, losing extra weight before can help you have a healthier pregnancy.
Try to not gain more weight than recommended. Gaining some weight during pregnancy is okay and healthy. But gaining too much weight too fast can spike your risk. Ask your doctor what a reasonable amount of weight gain is for you.