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If you’ve been diagnosed with gestational diabetes or are worried it could be a factor in your pregnancy, you probably have a lot of questions and are definitely not alone.
Thankfully, gestational diabetes can often be managed with diet and exercise alone, and it doesn’t mean that you won’t have a healthy pregnancy.
Let’s talk about gestational diabetes, how it’s treated, and what you can do to help tackle it with the right foods and activity.
Gestational diabetes is diabetes that only occurs in pregnant people. That means you can’t get gestational diabetes unless you’re pregnant.
Gestational diabetes is defined as high blood sugar that develops during or is first recognized during pregnancy.
During pregnancy, the way that your body uses insulin changes. Insulin is a hormone that allows your cells to absorb and use glucose, or sugar, for energy.
You’ll naturally become more resistant to insulin when you’re pregnant to help provide your baby with more glucose.
In some people, 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.
Basic healthy eating
- Eat protein with every meal.
- Include daily fruits and vegetables in your diet.
- 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. Too many carbohydrates can lead to spikes in your blood sugar.
If you’re craving some carb-y goodness, make sure it’s the good, complex kind — think legumes, whole grains, and starchy veggies like sweet potatoes and butternut squash.
If you’re diagnosed with gestational diabetes or are at risk for developing gestational diabetes, ask your doctor about working with a registered dietitian who specializes in gestational diabetes or nutrition during pregnancy.
A dietitian can help you plan your meals and come up with an eating plan that will keep you and baby healthy with foods you actually like.
Aim to base your meals around protein, healthy fats, and fiber. Include lots of fresh foods and limit your intake of processed foods.
Those french fry cravings can be hard to resist, so aim to keep healthy alternatives around the house for when cravings strike. What’s more, filling up on satiating choices like protein-rich foods can help you stay satisfied so you’re less likely to crave less nutritious items.
Although carbohydrate tolerance can vary significantly among pregnant people with gestational diabetes,
However, keep in mind that your carb needs and tolerance are specific to you. They depend on factors such as medication use, body weight, and blood sugar control.
Work with your healthcare team, including your doctor and registered dietitian, to come up with a plan to promote optimal blood sugar control during pregnancy that suits your individual needs.
Snacks and meals
Snacks are great for keeping blood sugar levels stable (and for satisfying that evening snack attack!). Here are a few healthier choices for snacks and meals if you have gestational diabetes:
- Fresh or frozen vegetables. Veggies can be enjoyed raw, roasted, or steamed. For a satisfying snack, pair raw veggies with a protein source like hummus or cheese.
- Veggie omelets made with whole eggs or egg whites. Whole eggs are an excellent source of many nutrients while egg whites provide mostly protein.
- Steel-cut oatmeal topped with pumpkin seeds, unsweetened coconut, and berries.
- Fresh fruit paired with a handful of nuts or a spoonful of nut butter.
- Turkey or chicken breasts. Don’t be afraid to eat the skin!
- Baked fish, especially fatty fish like salmon and trout.
- Sweet potato toast topped with mashed avocado and cherry tomatoes.
- Unsweetened Greek yogurt topped with sunflower seeds, cinnamon, and diced apple.
Also, try these recipes for diabetes-friendly snacks and meals.
What about fruit?
Yep, you can still eat fruit if you have gestational diabetes. You’ll just need eat it in moderation. If you’re concerned, or want help keeping track of the carbs that are included in the fruits you’d like to eat, talk to a registered dietitian. (Again, your carb needs and tolerance are unique to you!)
Berries are an excellent choice as they are relatively low in sugar and high in fiber, so get ready to stock up and toss them into a smoothie, on some yogurt, or over some whole grain oatmeal. Try freezing them for extra crunch.
Here are seven types of fruit to try during pregnancy.
It’s not fun to avoid some of your favorite foods, but there are lots of delish alternatives. You’ll want to avoid highly processed foods, such as white bread, and, in general, anything that has a lot of sugar.
For example, you’ll want to be sure to avoid the following:
- fast food
- alcoholic beverages
- 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 pasta and white rice
- sweetened cereals, sugary granola bars, and sweetened oatmeals
If you’re unsure, ask your healthcare provider about foods you typically eat. They can help you identify what to avoid and give you alternatives that will keep you satisfied.
Gestational diabetes can cause concerns for both you and baby, but don’t let it make you anxious. Here are some complications you may encounter that can be avoided by managing your health with your doctor.
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:
- baby’s shoulders can get stuck
- you can bleed more
- the baby may have a hard time keeping their blood sugar stable 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. However, for some people, high blood sugar may persist after pregnancy. This is called type 2 diabetes.
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.
To make sure you decrease your risk for complications, talk with your doctor about continued care before and after baby is born.
The treatment for gestational diabetes depends on your blood glucose levels.
In many cases, gestational diabetes can be treated with diet and exercise alone. In some cases, you may need to take oral medication such as metformin (Glucophage, Glumetza) or injectable insulin to lower your blood sugar.
It’s not just food alone that can help you stay healthy with gestational diabetes. 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 5 days a week. Don’t be afraid to incorporate a wide range of activity, both for your health and for enjoyment. Just remember to speak to your doctor before starting any new exercises (in case you get the urge to start parkour!).
- Don’t skip meals. To regulate your blood sugar levels, aim to eat a healthy snack or meal every 3 hours or so. Eating nutrient-dense foods regularly can help keep you satiated and stabilize blood sugar levels.
- Take your prenatal vitamins, including any probiotics, if they’re recommended by your doctor.
- See your doctor as often as they recommend — they want you healthy.
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.
Talk to your doctor about the right combination of healthy foods, physical activity you can enjoy, and recommended treatments to keep yourself and your little one healthy and strong.