Finding out you have gestational diabetes can feel defeating and frightening. You may feel as if you’ve done everything in your power to have a healthy pregnancy or feel guilty because you “couldn’t curb your carb cravings”. Always remember there are many factors that contribute to a diagnosis of gestational diabetes and sometimes, how blood sugars act is more because of pregnancy hormones than what you are consuming. But not to worry, just because you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes during pregnancy doesn’t mean you can’t have a healthy pregnancy and healthy baby.

If you’ve been diagnosed with pregnancy diabetes, you’ve most likely come to learn this from a doctor’s ordered glucose test anywhere between 24-28 weeks into your pregnancy. If you failed your one-hour test, you were instructed to take a three-hour glucose test in which you were asked to drink about 100 grams of liquid glucose and have your blood drawn three times every hour.

Being that I’m a prenatal Registered Dietitian and a new mom myself, I’ve had a lot of experience managing and advising on how to best manage gestational diabetes, and I’m here to help. Read on to learn more about the ways you can mitigate the effects of diabetes during your pregnancy, on your body, and for your baby.

What is Gestational Diabetes?

According to the CDC, gestational diabetes is the type of diabetes that occurs during pregnancy in women who don’t already have diabetes. It’s estimated that nearly 2%-10% of every pregnancy is impacted by gestational diabetes and the disease occurs when the body’s ability to create insulin is disrupted by a change in hormone and the placenta’s impact on your body to effectively use insulin. It is typical for all pregnant women to have some level of insulin resistance and sensitivity to carbohydrates due to increased levels of estrogen and cortisol.

Signs of Gestational Diabetes

Many women may not know they’re suffering from gestational diabetes, in fact, there are often no symptoms. However, some women might suffer from symptoms like:

  • extreme thirst
  • fatigue
  • blurred vision
  • frequent urination
  • nausea
  • frequent bladder, vaginal, or skin infections

If you’re struggling with any of these symptoms, please contact your doctor immediately. 

It’s important to keep in mind that it may very well be that your gestational diabetes diagnosis is beyond your control. There are so many factors working against your ability to create insulin, oftentimes women aren’t at fault for developing gestational diabetes. However, there are some steps you can take to reduce the impacts of gestational diabetes on your health and also your baby’s health.

Diet for Gestational Diabetes

Remember, when you’re suffering from gestational diabetes your body isn’t able to produce enough insulin to manage the glucose (sugar) released into your bloodstream by the foods you’ve eaten. And since foods like carbohydrates – think bread, spaghetti, starchy vegetables like potatoes, cookies, sodas, candy, cakes, etc. – are high in glucose (sugar), your body will have a harder time managing your blood sugars when you’re eating a lot of these foods.

Well, what’s a lot? Typically, I recommend that women diagnosed with gestational diabetes get no more than 30-35% of their calories from carbohydrates. This recommendation is very different from what you will see from national guidelines. However, in my practice, I have found that the typical 40-45% of calories from carbohydrates do not result in optimal blood sugar regulation. I always suggest that they get their carbs from things like vegetables and fruit since those foods have, typically, lower carbohydrate amounts than processed foods and they’re healthier for you and your baby.

You’ll also want to pair your carbohydrates with a protein and fat to support blood sugar control. Think apple with nut butter or shrimp with edamame pasta and broccoli. 

To get your started…here are 4 things you can start doing today to support your blood sugars:

  • Keep a food journal and corresponding blood sugars to start assessing patterns with how different foods or combinations impact your blood sugars
  • Have a protein packed snack before bed
  • Aim to eat every 3 hours
  • When putting together a meal, make sure your plate is ½ veggies, ¼ protein, ¼ high fiber food

Here’s what that might look like for one day:

  • Breakfast: Three eggs scrambled with avocado and cheese (optional: 1 slice sprouted toast)
  • Snack: plain Greek yogurt with ½ cup berries, 1 tbsp nut butter, chia seeds, and cinnamon
  • Lunch: Salmon salad stuffed peppers with Mary’s crackers and 2 tbsp hummus
  • Snack: apple with 2 tbsp nut butter
  • Dinner: baked chicken with roasted pesto veggie medley, and butternut squash
  • Evening Snack: trail mix nuts and 2 tbsp Lily’s chocolate chips

Snacks for Gestational Diabetes

I also encourage my clients to snack on things that are truly satisfying to them. That means eating foods that actually light you up. Just because you have to adjust your carbohydrate intake doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyable or fun?! Have you tried whipped chocolate cottage cheese and strawberries? 

When it comes to snacks, balancing out the carbohydrate with a protein and fat can be a game changer. Try avoiding having your carbs “naked” as some would say. That means have peanut butter with your banana, guac with your chips, or cheese with that pear. This can help to curb cravings and keep you feeling full and fueled for longer.

Try To Move Your Body

Exercising at any point of the day, especially after meals can really help to support blood sugar control. How? When muscles contract from movement or physical activity, the cells are able to take up the glucose without needing insulin to bring them into the cells. Meaning, a person does not have to wait on the pancreas to release insulin to bring the glucose into the cells.

As a result, this improves insulin sensitivity because the pancreas isn’t constantly pumping out insulin to bring glucose into the cells (or in response to glucose in the blood). When the pancreas is constantly pumping out insulin, it gets “tired” resulting in insulin resistance, so I always recommend that my clients try to get 30 minutes of exercise most days.

Remember, a gestational diabetes diagnosis doesn’t have to be terrifying. There are steps you can take to control your blood sugars, like managing your diet so that you’re increasing protein, vegetables, and relying on more complex carbohydrates to fuel your body. 

If you’d like to learn more about how to manage gestational diabetes or to continue the conversation, please fill out this form so that I can get to know you better or email me at [email protected]

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