A normal pregnancy is already an ordeal in itself. Cravings, backache, nausea, mood swings, frequent urination, stretch marks … heaven only knows the last thing you’ll need is gestational diabetes. But unfortunately for 3-9% of pregnant women this is a condition they’re faced with. Even though there’s very little you can do to prevent it, there are some measures you can take to keep it under control and reduce risks of complications.
What is gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes comes about when you develop high blood sugar levels during your pregnancy – a time when your body has to make extra insulin. Insulin is the hormone that helps your body use glucose for energy, as well as store any extra. If you can’t meet the increased demand when you’re expecting, you may end up with gestational diabetes.
What are the risks associated with gestational diabetes?
Luckily, since it’s easily screened and treated, most women who are afflicted with gestational diabetes go on to have healthy babies. If it isn’t controlled however, the excess sugar will cross the placenta and might cause your baby to grow bigger than normal, possibly making labor and birth more difficult, problematic and risky.
How can you manage gestational diabetes?
Basically, it all boils down to lifestyle and monitoring:
• Get at least 30 minutes of exercise daily
When you’re working out, your body uses up that excess sugar from your bloodstream. Whether it’s a walk, jog, swim or a weight-lifting workout, it’s crucial that you include regular moderately intense physical exercise in your schedule.
• Monitor your calorie intake
You need to make sure you don’t put on too much weight, because especially towards the end of your pregnancy, any excess weight you put on might contribute to your having an even larger baby.
• Eat small meals every 2-3 hours
You’re growing a baby, so you obviously need fuel. By eating small meals frequently you get your body used to regular processing of nutrients, so you’ll be able to prevent those dangerous peaks and valleys of diabetes.
• Spread your carbohydrate intake well
It’s extremely important to avoid blood sugar level peaks. One way to control these sharp rises is by limiting your carbohydrate intake per meal. Reducing carbs to 15 net grams each meal means you aren’t allowing sugar spikes.
• Restrict breakfast carbohydrates
Insulin resistance is highest in the morning, so you have to be extra careful about your carbohydrate intake during breakfast. Choose low-GI foods and those high in fiber.
• Choose foods with a low Glycemic Index (GI)
Low-GI foods take longer to be digested and they release glucose more slowly in your bloodstream. Go for porridge, durum-wheat pasta, beans, lentils, sweetcorn, apples, oranges, pears and peaches.
• Up your intake of fiber
Fiber is known to stimulate the activity of insulin receptors, as well as inhibit the release of excess insulin into your bloodstream. It will help balance insulin levels. Choose whole grains and add high-fiber veg like mustard greens, chicory, endives, spinach, broccoli and cabbage to your diet. Also, include flaxseeds and chia seeds in your meals – they have almost no usable carbs but are super high in fiber.
• Self-monitor your blood glucose levels
With a simple handheld capillary glucose dosage system you can stay up to date on where your glucose levels are at. This type of monitoring can then guide your therapy.
• Talk to your doctor or dietician
You’re going to want to get some expert advice if you can’t seem to manage your diabetes on your own. A certified dietician could help guide you on which foods to eat and which to avoid, as well as how much and how often you should eat. Also, if all else fails, professionals might prescribe antidiabetic drugs, namely insulin therapy.
• Go for your ultrasound scans
You’re going to want to check how your little ones are doing, more often than if you didn’t develop gestational diabetes. You should schedule appointments to monitor how your babies are growing, as well as check the amount of amniotic fluid you have.
• Pay attention to your babies’ movements
This doesn’t mean you should go completely crazy over them, but it’s best to pay closer attention to how and how often your babies move if you know you’re suffering from gestational diabetes. If you notice anything out of the ordinary in your little ones’ movement, let your obstetrician or midwife know.
How will gestational diabetes affect labor?
Depending on how well you manage gestational diabetes and how your pregnancy progresses, you may be offered to be induced or to have a caesarean section. If everything is going well it’s still advised that you have your babies in hospital. There you’ll have the advantage of having your babies being monitored during labor. Hospital staff will be constantly on the lookout for signs of distress. They will also check and control your blood glucose levels when you go into labor, and by keeping them stable they’ll be helping prevent your babies from having problems postpartum.
How will it affect my newborn babies?
Your little ones may be hypoglycemic (suffer from low blood sugar) until their body regulates making the correct amount of insulin. They may also have jaundice. Their blood glucose levels might need to be monitored for a bit before they’re stabilized, and if they’re born prematurely they’ll need to be taken to special care. As far as the future is concerned, babies whose mums were afflicted with diabetes are more predisposed to obesity and to eventually developing Type 2 diabetes. However, breastfeeding has been found to reduce this risk. In fact, breastfeeding is recommended as soon as possible after birth. Also, a healthy lifestyle, focused on a balanced diet and regular exercise will do wonders in reducing the risks associated with diabetes for both mother and children.