What is gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is diabetes that only occurs in pregnant women. That means you can't get gestational diabetes unless you’re pregnant. You may develop gestational diabetes for the first time during pregnancy or you might have a mild undiagnosed case of diabetes that gets worse when you’re pregnant.
During pregnancy, the way your body uses insulin changes. Insulin is a hormone that breaks the foods you eat down into glucose, or sugar. You then use that glucose for energy.
You’ll naturally become more resistant to insulin when you’re pregnant to help provide your baby with more glucose. In some women, the process goes wrong and your body either stops responding to insulin or doesn't make enough insulin to give you the glucose you need. When that happens, you’ll have too much sugar in your blood. That causes gestational diabetes.
If you have recently been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, or are curious about what will happen if you are diagnosed with it, keep reading to learn more about maintaining a healthy pregnancy.
What foods should you eat?
Basic healthy eating
- Eat protein with every meal.
- Include daily fruits and vegetables in your diet.
- Thirty percent or less of your diet should be made up of fat.
- Limit or avoid processed foods.
- Pay attention to portion sizes to avoid overeating.
If you have gestational diabetes, maintaining a healthy, balanced diet may help you manage your symptoms without needing medication. In general, your diet should include protein plus the right mix of carbohydrates and fats.
Once you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, ask your doctor about working with a registered dietitian or nutritionist. They can help you plan your meals and come up with an eating plan that will keep you and your baby healthy.
Aim to base your meals around protein. Include lots of fresh foods and limit your intake of carbohydrates and processed foods.
The American Diabetes Association has a helpful guide called MyPlate to help you learn how to build a healthy plate for each meal. For example, each meal should be 25 percent protein, 25 percent starch, and 50 percent nonstarchy foods, such as vegetables or salad.
Here are few healthy choices for snacks and meals if you have gestational diabetes:
- fresh or frozen vegetables
- eggs or egg whites
- steel-cut oatmeal topped with berries
- fresh fruit
- skinless chicken breasts
- baked fish
- steamed vegetables
- air-popped popcorn
- unsweetened Greek yogurt
What foods should you avoid?
You will want to avoid highly processed foods, such as white bread, and, in general, anything that has a lot sugar. For example, you will want to be sure to avoid foods such as:
- fast food
- alcoholic beverages, which you should avoid anyway if you’re pregnant
- baked goods, such as muffins, donuts, or cakes
- fried food
- sugary drinks, such as soda, juice, and sweetened beverages
- very starchy foods, such as white potatoes and white rice
If you’re unsure, ask your doctor about foods you typically eat. They can help you to identify what you should avoid.
What are the complications?
Gestational diabetes can be risky to both you and your baby. The extra glucose in your body can make your baby gain weight. A bigger baby puts you at risk for having a more difficult delivery because:
- the baby's shoulders can get stuck
- you can bleed more
- the baby may have a hard time keeping their blood sugar stable and breathing after birth
Gestational diabetes also increases your risk of high blood pressure during pregnancy.
In most cases, gestational diabetes disappears after your baby is born. But if you had diabetes before pregnancy, you will still have it. Having gestational diabetes does put you at an increased risk of developing diabetes later on in life, too. Both you and your baby will be checked for diabetes after birth.
How is gestational diabetes treated?
The treatment for gestational diabetes depends on your blood glucose levels. In many cases, gestational diabetes can be treated with diet and exercise. In some cases, you’ll need to take medication like metformin or insulin to lower your blood sugar.
Other steps for a healthy pregnancy
In addition to maintaining a well-balanced diet, there are other things you can do to have a healthy pregnancy:
- Exercise regularly. Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise five days a week. Don't be afraid to incorporate a wide range of activity while you are pregnant, just remember to speak to your doctor before starting any new exercises. Regular exercise will also help keep your blood sugar levels stable.
- Eat every two hours. To regulate your blood sugar levels, never skip meals and aim to eat a healthy snack or meal every two hours. Skipping meals can cause your blood sugar levels to fluctuate and make it harder to get them back under control.
- Take your prenatal vitamins.
- See your doctor as often as they recommend.
If you’re diagnosed with gestational diabetes during pregnancy, know that with the right diet and exercise, you can have a healthy pregnancy, labor, and delivery.