What to Eat When You Have Gestational Diabetes: The Complete Guide
Being diagnosed with gestational diabetes can be a shock. You’ve never had diabetes before, so you’re unsure what to eat. What foods should I avoid? Will my meals drastically change?
This post will guide you on what’s safe to eat when you have gestational diabetes.
What is Gestational Diabetes?
Simply put, a woman has gestational diabetes if she’s never had diabetes before but has high blood glucose levels during pregnancy.
When a woman becomes pregnant, she will need more glucose to nourish her baby and her own body will become somewhat resistant to insulin. The problem arises when the mother is not able to produce or use the insulin required for pregnancy. When this happens, glucose is trapped in the blood and accumulates.
Around 9.2% of pregnant women experience gestational diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
What Causes Gestational Diabetes?
Although it’s unclear exactly what causes gestational diabetes, insulin resistance could play a part. Hormones from the placenta can stop the action of insulin in a mother’s body. This means that it becomes more difficult for the mother to use insulin and to make up for it, her body may require three times as much insulin.
While any pregnant woman may develop gestational diabetes, there are risk factors:
- Age 25 or older
- Family history of diabetes
- Risk for diabetes (i.e. medical conditions that make having diabetes more likely)
- Black, Hispanic, Asian or American Indian (it’s unclear why non-white races are more at risk)
Can Gestational Diabetes Harm the Baby?
If a mother has diabetes before she is pregnant, her baby is at risk for different birth defects compared to a baby who was born to a mother with gestational diabetes. This is because by the time a mother is affected with gestational diabetes, her baby is already formed.
However, the baby is still growing during this time and can be affected if the mother doesn’t take steps to treat her disease.
If untreated, a baby can be affected in the following ways:
- Born with macrosomia AKA “fat” baby— A newborn baby who is born with macrosomia weighs more than 8 pounds, 13 ounces. So why does gestational diabetes lead to a big baby? Extra blood glucose travels through the placenta and causes your baby to have high blood glucose levels. To get rid of the blood glucose, your baby’s pancreas produces more insulin. The extra energy your baby doesn’t use is stored as fat.
- Birthing complications— Large babies may have difficulty passing through the birth canal. This may injure the baby’s neck and/or shoulders. You’re also more likely to have a C-section if your baby is big.
- Low blood glucose levels
- Preterm labor and the risks associated with it
- Risk for breathing problems
- Increased obesity risk as a child
- Increased risk for type 2 diabetes as an adult
It should be noted that many mothers with gestational diabetes have healthy babies if they keep their health in check.
Gestational Diabetes Symptoms
Many women who develop gestational diabetes have no signs. However, between 24 and 38 weeks of pregnancy, your doctor will automatically test you for it. If your blood test shows that you have high blood sugar, you will need a secondary blood test. If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, you will have more frequent appointments.
How Is Gestational Diabetes Treated?
When you’re diagnosed with gestational diabetes, you may be constantly worrying about the health of your baby. The best way to ensure he or she is healthy is to control your own health.
If you’re anxious, remind yourself that a completely healthy pregnancy and baby is possible if you do your very best to control the disease. Your doctor will develop a treatment plan specific to you. Your treatment plan could consist of:
- Frequent exercise— Exercise is very helpful for managing diabetes. When you get your body moving, the glucose moves into your cells and is used for energy, which lowers blood sugar. Exercise can also make insulin more efficient.
- Diet plan (more on this below)
- Blood sugar monitoring and frequent check-ups— To test your blood sugar at home, you will need to purchase a blood glucose meter. Using the needle attached to the device, you will prick your finger for a drop of blood. You then place the drop on a test strip.
- Medication— If lifestyle changes don’t make a difference, your doctor may prescribe blood sugar control medication or insulin injections.
Your doctor may also refer you to other health care professionals who can help you manage your blood sugar levels. These could include an endocrinologist, a dietician or another professional who specializes in diabetes.
Diet Plans for Gestational Diabetes
You’ve heard it many times before and you’re going to hear it again now: For a healthy pregnancy, you should be eating a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. These foods should be eaten in healthy portions and should be low in unhealthy fats and calories. Your focus should be on healthy fats, healthy carbohydrates and proteins.
The same rules generally apply to those who are diagnosed with gestational diabetes; however, there may be a few modifications. Your diet depends on your weight, blood sugar level, exercise regimes and previous food restrictions/allergies. Your doctor may recommend that you try to consume the same amount of carbs in each meal.
If you’re worried about choosing a diet that is right for your body, it may be helpful to reach out to a registered dietician or a health care professional that specialized in diabetes. They will be able to look at your specific case and make recommendations and diet plans that are optimal for you.
Gestational Diabetes Diet Plan Tips
Instead of eating three big meals, consider making six smaller meals. This would basically look like three smaller meals with three small, nutritious snacks in between. Since you want to eat frequently, portion control is key.
Your blood glucose is harder to control in the morning, so you should consider starting off your day with protein rather than just fruits or vegetables. Protein helps you to control your blood glucose, so eating it with each of your 6 meals is ideal. You should also stay away from fruit juices since they are sugar-laden and will spike your blood sugar levels.
Try getting sugar from natural sources, such as fruits. Stay away from processed foods and refined carbs, such as baked goods, candy and pasta. When you’re in the grocery store, check to see if there’s a sugar-free or no-added sugar version of a product.
Since fruits contain natural sugar, they are safe to eat in moderation. You should eat one to two fruit servings a day but space out the portions. Fresh and frozen fruit is okay, but stay away from canned fruits.
While it may be tempting to load up on artificial sweeteners as an alternative, you should try to limit yourself. An Israeli study concluded that fake sugars could contribute to glucose intolerance. Others say that since these sweeteners are so sweet, you will need more and more to be satisfied. While using a pack every now and then shouldn’t hurt, you shouldn’t rely on it and should ditch the diet soda.
You might be surprised at how much you’re still able to eat after you’ve been diagnosed with gestational diabetes. Many of these meals you probably make in your kitchen already.
Gestational Diabetes Breakfast Ideas
Whole Grain Cereal
Eggs cooked to your liking with whole wheat toast
Gestational Diabetes Lunch Ideas
Sandwich with meat and veggies
Chicken salad with a whole wheat roll
Soup (preferably one that contains protein)
Gestational Diabetes Dinner Ideas
Meat and veggie side dishes (ex. chicken and veggies or beef and potatoes)
Chicken stir fry with veggies
Gestational Diabetes Snack Ideas
Veggies with a protein dip (ex. hummus)
Fruit with a protein dip (ex. Greek yogurt)
While the above tips are general recommendations for a woman who has gestational diabetes, you should always consult your doctor to see which diet plan is best.
Can Gestational Diabetes Stay After Delivery?
While no mother wants to be diagnosed with gestational diabetes, it’s not a long-term disease and will likely subside after pregnancy. After delivery, your blood sugar levels are likely to normalize.
Your blood sugar levels will be checked after you deliver and six weeks after.
The bad news is that you will be more likely to develop diabetes down the road. For this reason, it’s a good idea to have your blood sugar levels checked frequently, even if they appear to have normalized.
Can Gestational Diabetes Be Prevented?
It’s impossible to 100% prevent gestational diabetes. However, the best way to prevent it is to ensure you have a healthy lifestyle. This includes eating healthy and exercising frequently. If you’re overweight, losing fat before you become pregnant may also lower your risk.
Do you have gestational diabetes? If you do, comment some of your favorite diabetes-friendly meals. If you have pregnant friends, be sure to share this post with them too!