What is gestational diabetes?

Gestational diabetes, which causes higher-than-normal blood sugar levels to be present, occurs during pregnancy.

Gestational diabetes testing usually occurs between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy. If you have risk factors for diabetes, your doctor may recommend testing earlier in the pregnancy. If you receive a gestational diabetes diagnosis, you’ll need testing 6 to 12 weeks after giving birth to see whether the diabetes is still present.

Gestational diabetes usually resolves after you deliver, although you’re at higher risk for developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, gestational diabetes affects 3 to 8 percent of pregnant women in the United States.

Gestational diabetes increases the risk of having a large baby, which may cause problems with delivery. It also increases the risk of having a baby born with hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Respiratory distress, jaundice, and low calcium and magnesium levels are also more common in babies whose mothers have gestational diabetes. There’s a higher risk of your baby developing diabetes later in life as well.

Changing your diet is generally the first method of treatment for gestational diabetes.

The amount of calories you should consume each day depends on a number of factors, such as your weight and activity level. Pregnant women should generally increase their calorie consumption by 300 calories per day from their prepregnancy diet. Doctors recommend three meals and two to three snacks per day. Eating smaller meals more frequently can help you keep your blood sugar levels stable.

Your doctor will likely recommend that you monitor your blood sugar levels to help manage gestational diabetes.

Testing your blood sugar after meals tells you how that meal affected your blood sugar. Your doctor will let you know what your blood sugar levels should be.

General recommendations during pregnancy are to keep sugar levels no higher than 95 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) before eating or fasting, no higher than 140 mg/dL one hour after eating, and no higher than 120 mg/dL two hours after eating.

You may notice that your blood sugar levels are higher in the morning even though you haven’t eaten. This is because hormones released in the night can raise your fasting blood sugar. Eating a snack before bed can help some people. For others, managing the carbohydrates eaten at breakfast is important, which may mean limiting fruits in the morning. Testing your blood sugar levels can help you and your doctor figure out the best meal plan for you.

Doctors also recommend that pregnant women take a prenatal multivitamin, iron supplement, or calcium supplement. This can help you meet the higher requirements of some vitamins and minerals during pregnancy, and help the baby develop normally.

Carbohydrates are the body’s main source of energy.

Carbohydrates are what raise blood sugar. You should carefully monitor the amount of carbohydrate you eat with your meals. Measure portions so you know how much you’re eating. Record your portions at each meal and snack so you can adjust your diet if your blood sugar levels are out of range. However, eating too few carbohydrates can also cause problems. That’s why good tracking and record keeping are key.

You can track carbohydrates by either counting grams of carbohydrates at each meal and snack or tracking the servings or exchanges of carbohydrates. Talk to your doctor or dietitian for more information.

You should try to consume carbohydrates with each meal and snack to spread carbohydrate consumption throughout the day. This can help keep your blood sugar levels stable and avoid blood sugar spikes.

Starches and grains provide carbohydrates to the body. It’s best to choose starches that are high in fiber and made with whole grains. Not only are these types of carbohydrates more nutritious, but your body also digests them more slowly. Better choices include:

  • whole-grain bread and oats
  • brown rice and pasta, quinoa, buckwheat, or amaranth
  • whole-grain cereal
  • legumes, such as black beans or kidney beans
  • starchy vegetables, such as potatoes and corn

Milk and yogurt also provide carbohydrates to the body. Milk counts as part of your total carbohydrates during a meal. Milk is a valuable part of a meal plan because it supplies a good amount of calcium and protein. Calcium is important for bone health.

Low-fat dairy may be a better choice if you’re trying to manage your weight gain during pregnancy.

Soy milk is an option for vegetarians or people who have lactose intolerance. Soy milk also has carbohydrates.

Almond or flax milk isn’t a carbohydrate source and may help you if you need to limit your carbohydrate at a particular meal but still want a milk-type product. Be sure to pick the unsweetened varieties of these milks to manage your carbohydrate intake.

Fruits provide carbohydrates and are part of the total carbohydrate content of your meal or snack. Whole fruits are high in fiber and preferred over juices or canned fruits packed in sugar.

Sweets also provide carbohydrates. While you don’t need to completely avoid sweets, you should monitor your intake of these foods closely as they can raise your blood sugar more quickly than higher fiber, more complex carbohydrates. Sweets often have more carbohydrates in a smaller serving than other carbohydrate foods.

Vegetables also provide carbohydrates to the body. The amount of carbohydrates can be negligible, as is the case with options like greens or broccoli, or they can contain a significant amount of carbohydrates, as is the case with starchy vegetables such as potatoes, corn, and peas. Be sure to check the carbohydrate content of your vegetables so you know how much carbohydrate you’re eating.

It’s important to consume a wide variety of vegetables to get the nutrients needed for both mother and baby. Eat three to five servings of vegetables each day.

One serving of vegetables is equal to one of the following:

  • 1 cup leafy vegetables
  • 1/2 cup chopped vegetables
  • 3/4 cup vegetable juice

You should specifically try to eat a variety of vegetables daily because each color contains its own set of nutrient and antioxidants.

Protein is an essential component of a healthy diet. Most protein sources don’t have carbohydrates and won’t raise blood sugar, but be sure to check vegetarian sources of protein, such as beans and legumes, which can contain carbohydrates.

Most women with gestational diabetes require two to three servings of protein each day. One serving of protein is equal to one of the following:

  • 3 ounces of cooked meat
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup of beans
  • 1 ounces of nuts
  • 2 tablespoons of nut butter
  • 1/2 cup of Greek yogurt

To reduce fat intake, eat lean cuts of meat with no visible skin and fat.

Fats don’t raise blood sugar because they don’t have carbohydrates. However, they are a concentrated source of calories. If you’re trying to manage your weight gain, you may want to manage your fat intake. Healthy fats are essential. Nuts, seeds, avocado, olive and canola oil, and flax seeds are just a few examples of healthy fats.

For overall health, limit saturated fats such as lard and bacon, and trans fats. Trans fats primarily appear in processed foods.