Firstly, what is Gestational Diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is diabetes that develops or is first diagnosed during pregnancy. You can think of it as “insulin resistance” or “carbohydrate intolerance” during pregnancy as a way to understand it better. Basically, it means that a woman cannot tolerate large amounts of carbohydrates without causing her blood sugar levels to rise.
Can Gestational Diabetes be Prevented?
You don’t have to have a history of glucose intolerance or insulin resistance to be at risk of developing gestational diabetes. Research has shown that adopting healthy practises such as not smoking, regular exercise (150 minutes or more per week) and a healthy diet can reduce the risk of gestational diabetes by 41%. Physical activity helps to reduce insulin resistance.
Weight and gestational diabetes:
Weight can significantly influence your likelihood of developing gestational diabetes. It is vital to maintain a healthy weight at conception and during your pregnancy as to prevent causing an increase in insulin resistance.
What impact does high blood sugar have during pregnancy?
High blood sugar can cause various complications in the baby such as macrosomia (large baby) which increases the chance of a caesarean due to an increased chance of an obstructed labour. It also causes an increase in shoulder dystocia which is where the shoulders get stuck during vaginal delivery, with possible nerve damage to the baby. It can also result in hypoglycaemia (low sugar levels) after delivery and permanent changes to a child’s metabolism.
Changes to the baby’s metabolism can cause issues later in life. Exposure to high blood sugar causes the foetal pancreas to produce excessive amounts of insulin to maintain normal blood sugar levels. As a consequence, fat accumulates around the midsection and the foetal pancreas is subjected to hyperplasia (enlargement of the organ). Babies exposed to gestational diabetes in the womb have a greater risk of becoming overweight and developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
Gestational Diabetes Management:
The primary treatment for gestational diabetes is diet and exercise. For those who are unable to control their blood sugar levels by nutritional therapy, insulin or medication may be required.
Another important management measure is to test your blood sugar levels throughout the day. This is to ensure your levels are being maintained. Before eating in the morning, and then two hours after breakfast, lunch and dinner are the recommended times to check your levels to get effective readings.
Gestational Diabetes Diet:
Suggested carbohydrate intake will differ for each individual based on her blood sugar control. Generally speaking, less than 175g of carbohydrates per day is beneficial. “Studies have shown that a low glycaemic index diet reduces the likelihood a woman will need insulin by 50%”.
Fats and proteins tend to stabilize your blood sugar levels. Meat, poultry, eggs, full-fat cheese, nuts, seeds and avocados.
Be mindful of your sugar intake and avoid juice, soft drinks, desserts, honey and dried fruit.
Avoid refined carbohydrates such as cereal and pasta.
Spread your carbohydrate intake throughout the day to avoid spiking your blood sugar levels. This helps to maintain your levels. Calories can be divided over three meals and two to four snacks, comprising of about 40 percent carbohydrate, 20 percent protein, and 40 percent fat.