For the past couple of weeks now we’ve been discussing diabetes and highlighting some of the important things to know, and even some crazy misconceptions about the condition. This is a wrap to the series discussing Gestational Diabetes, so if you’ve missed Parts I and II, make sure to check them out to learn all about Pre-diabetes and Type 2 Diabetes!
What is Gestational Diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is a special type of diabetes that only affects women during pregnancy. It affects 3-20% of pregnancies in Canada, and can be quite common depending on other risk factors present. Those in at risk populations include South Asian and African populations, similar to as was mentioned in the first part of the series on Pre-diabetes.
What happens in the body?
During pregnancy the body goes through many changes and this includes some changes to hormone balance. As we recall, insulin is a hormone released by the pancreas that helps with glucose metabolism. When pregnant, the baby develops in the body and the placenta, which keeps the baby nourished, will release some hormones. For some women, their pancreas cannot balance the other hormones causing an insulin resistance leading to Gestational Diabetes. Because a higher output of insulin would be needed during the pregnancy, depending on the genetics of the woman and other risk factors present, her pancreas may not be able to respond at the proper level. This will lead to higher blood sugar and extra care will be needed to ensure the health of both her and child.
Gestational diabetes is also commonly diagnosed later on in the pregnancy at around weeks 24-28, and can come as a surprise as many women may not know that they are at risk.
What are the risks?
Some of the risk factors that are specific to Gestational Diabetes include:
Being over 35 years of age
Having previously given birth to a baby over 9lbs (4kg)
Having Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
Other risk factors are similar to those of Type 2 Diabetes, which include being overweight, being in an at-risk population, and having close family members with diabetes.
The good news is having Gestational Diabetes does not mean your child will be born with diabetes, however their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes later on in life, as well as the mother’s risk, both increase if the diabetes is not managed during the pregnancy. The baby may also be at risk for further complications such as being born at a larger weight (over 9lbs), which can cause problematic delivery, and even increasing the risk of the baby becoming over weight in the future.
Gestational diabetes may also increase risk of miscarriage. Although the diabetes usually does not develop until later on in the pregnancy when risk for miscarriage is lower, if not managed gestational diabetes can actually increase risk of losing the baby.
How this can affect your pregnancy?
Although the good news is that for most women Gestational Diabetes usually goes away at the end of pregnancy, it can still be tough and stressful to deal with. For some women, it can be managed completely by diet and lifestyle changes, however others may need to consider insulin, as oral medication is not usually administered due to concern for the child.
Here are 5 lifestyle tips that may help with managing your pregnancy with diabetes:
5 Helpful Tips for Managing Gestational Diabetes
Tip #1: Do not neglect visiting your healthcare providers
Not only is it super important to constantly get checked for diabetes when you’re pregnant, but its also important to make sure you are regularly visiting your doctor/dietitian/nurse/midwife to ensure no other complications arise. It may seem excessive however if it means the health of yourself and your child during the crucial time of pregnancy, it’s definitely worth it to keep following up. If you are in an at risk population with one or more of the risk factors, make note to get checked around weeks 24-28 of pregnancy to be screened for diabetes.
Tip#2: Diet and Types of Foods to Keep in Mind
What makes Gestational Diabetes tricky to deal with when first diagnosed is the many nutritional guidelines you now feel like you have to try and fulfill. However, the foods recommended to manage diabetes (like the healthy plate model, fibre, and others mentioned in Part II of the series) are actually already quite good for someone who is pregnant. The important thing to keep in mind is that pregnancy will significantly increase your need for certain nutrients – check out my Health Pregnancy Series that breaks down in detail all of these nutrients.
Of the macronutrients, protein requirements increase by about 10g per day and this translates to just about an extra ounce and a half (about 42g or a little over half a serving) of cooked meat. This can seem intimidating at first, however is manageable and can be well integrated into your life. Check out my Coconut Chicken and Vegetable Curry recipe for some inspiration! You can always tweak the seasoning to your preference as pregnancy can bring out a whole new flavour interest you never knew you had, so it’s a great time to look around and try out some different recipes like this!
Tip # 3: Weight Gain is VERY Important
When diagnosed with Gestational Diabetes you may feel tempted and pressured to restrict your calorie intake, however pregnancy is never the time to lost weight. Extreme dieting and weight loss may do more harm than good to both you and your child. Weight gain goals are different for every individual depending on your starting weight, and while weight loss can be an effective way of managing Pre-diabetes and Type 2 Diabetes, it is never the way to manage Gestational Diabetes.
Tip #4: Evenly Space Out Your Meals
Spacing out meals and snacks can help with blood sugar control to reduce any high spikes in blood glucose levels. As a bonus, this is also helpful in easing morning sickness symptoms and nausea that unfortunately comes with pregnancy for some women.
Tip # 5: Exercise
Exercising and physical activity during pregnancy has some great benefits that not only range from feeling good to looking good, but is also known to help stabilize blood sugar which is great when managing Gestational Diabetes. When exercising while pregnant, be sure to stick with safe activities that get you moving, yet you know will pose no risk to harming yourself or your baby. It’s important to know your limits and what is safe, and to ensure you are also eating well enough to balance everything out. Check out my post on Exercise that can help even with physical activity during pregnancy.
If you have been diagnosed with Gestational Diabetes it important to know there is no shame in it, as it’s easy to believe you’ve done something wrong and that it’s your fault. This is never the case, and it’s important to always remember that the health of yourself and your child should always come first. Make sure to ask your doctor and dietitian about any concerns you have with Gestational Diabetes and know it is completely possible to live a healthy and happy life with a healthy and happy child after going through a pregnancy with Gestational Diabetes.
Are you ready to begin your healthy lifestyle journey but don't know where to start? Join me and many other women with The Muslimah’s Meal Plan!