A woman's pregnancy is a miraculous and transformative time, and it's crucial to take care of herself and her unborn child during this time. For some women, this includes keeping an eye on their blood sugar levels and controlling gestational diabetes. In this blog post, we will discuss what gestational diabetes is, the risks of uncontrolled blood sugar levels during pregnancy, dietary modifications to regulate blood sugar levels, exercise and other lifestyle changes for better management of gestational diabetes.
Definition and Symptoms of Gestational Diabetes
When diabetes is identified for the first time during pregnancy, it is referred to as gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes, like other forms of diabetes, disrupts normal glucose utilization. Gestational diabetes is characterized by elevated blood sugar levels, which can threaten your pregnancy and your baby's health.
Common symptoms of gestational diabetes include increased thirst, frequent urination, fatigue, and blurred vision. Gestational diabetes screenings are typically performed between the 24th and 28th week of pregnancy. Your doctor may order a blood test for diabetes during your first prenatal visit if you have a high risk of developing gestational diabetes and ensure proper management throughout pregnancy. Blood tests are the gold standard for diagnosing gestational diabetes by doctors. A glucose challenge test, an oral glucose tolerance test, or both may be administered to you. The results of these tests reveal how efficiently your body processes glucose.
What can you expect from a glucose challenge test?
One hour after consuming a sugary beverage containing glucose, a blood sample will be taken by a medical practitioner. The test does not require you to fast (having nothing to eat or drink except water). If your blood sugar is 140 or higher, you may need to do another test while fasting. It's highly likely that you have type 2 diabetes if your blood glucose levels are 200 or above.
What’s an oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT)?
After fasting for at least 8 hours, blood glucose is measured using the OGTT. A blood sample will be taken from you first by a medical practitioner. You’ll then ingest the glucose-infused drink. In order to diagnose gestational diabetes, a doctor will need to draw blood from you every hour for two or three hours. You have gestational diabetes if you have high blood glucose levels at two or more of the blood test times. Your healthcare providers will discuss what comes out of your OGTT results with you. Your doctor may suggest an OGTT without the glucose challenge test.
More frequent visits to your doctor may be necessary if you develop gestational diabetes. During the last three months of pregnancy, your doctor will keep a close eye on your blood sugar and your baby.
Risks of Uncontrolled Blood Sugar Levels During Pregnancy
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, uncontrolled blood sugar in a pregnant woman with Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes can cause complications for both mother and child.
These health complications can include:
- Birth defects - Uncontrolled blood sugar during pregnancy has been linked to significant birth abnormalities, especially in the developing brain, spine, and heart.
- Fetal Macrosomia - Blood sugar that’s not in control can result in the baby being "overfed" and being larger than average. A large baby can cause complications for both the mother and the child during delivery, in addition to giving the mother discomfort in the final stages of pregnancy. Having a larger than average baby may also call for a cesarean section.
- Preeclampsia - High blood pressure is more common in women with diabetes (both type 1 and type 2) than in women without diabetes. Preeclampsia is characterized by high blood pressure, protein in the urine, and persistent swelling of the hands and feet in a pregnant woman. This is a dangerous condition that necessitates constant medical supervision and management.
Miscarriage, early birth, and still birth may also be more likely in these cases. To help avert these risks, it is essential that expectant mothers take steps to maintain their glucose levels within the normal range for the duration of the pregnancy. This involves following a healthy, well-balanced diet, exercising regularly (under physician supervision), tracking their glucose levels frequently, and adhering to any treatment plans prescribed by their medical practitioner.
Dietary Changes to Regulate Blood Sugar Levels
Sweets and desserts are typically off-limits for women with gestational diabetes because they raise blood sugar levels rapidly. Problems can arise from a lack of carbohydrates as well. So, it's absolutely important that you follow the specific diet plan your doctor or healthcare provider gave you.
Eating regular meals throughout the day without skipping meals can also help regulate blood sugar levels. Make sure that you’re eating 3 small to moderate meals, plus one or two snacks per day. It’s also not advisable to follow any fad diets to a T, especially if you haven’t talked to your doctor. Ask them how to maintain a healthy diet while adhering to a vegetarian or other restrictive eating plan.
Although controlling food intake can be difficult during pregnancy due to cravings and other discomforts, making dietary changes is necessary for maintaining healthy glucose levels throughout your pregnancy. It is also important for pregnant women with gestational diabetes to consult their doctor before making any drastic changes in their diet and discuss any potential food sensitivities they may have.
Maintaining healthy blood sugar levels during pregnancy is possible with the help of medical experts, a balanced diet, and close attention to the amount of carbohydrates and sugars consumed.
Exercise and Other Lifestyle Modifications
Exercise is an essential part of managing gestational diabetes, and chances are, your medical practitioner will advise you to get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day. Regular exercise can help maintain a healthy weight, control blood sugar levels, and reduce stress. Low-impact exercises such as walking, swimming, yoga, and tai chi are safe to do during pregnancy and can provide numerous health benefits. Strenuous exercises should be avoided as they can raise the risk of dehydration or injury.
In addition to exercise, adequate rest is also important for pregnant women with gestational diabetes. Getting enough sleep helps keep hormone levels balanced and reduces stress which may help keep blood sugar under control. It is recommended that pregnant women get 7-8 hours of quality sleep per night. If you’re having trouble getting some zzz’s because of discomfort, consider a maternity pillow. Our Bub's Maternity Pillow™ provides support for your baby bump, back, and hips so you can get sleep comfortably throughout the night.
Other lifestyle modifications such as relaxation techniques and stress management should also be considered when managing gestational diabetes. Meditation, deep breathing exercises, or yoga classes can all help reduce stress levels during pregnancy. Additionally, speaking with a mental health professional or counselor can offer additional support for dealing with the emotional aspects of pregnancy and managing blood sugar levels.
Treatments for Gestational Diabetes
Once gestational diabetes has been identified, diet and exercise are essential components in treating this condition. Consulting with a doctor or nutritionist can help create meal plans that include food such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains with lean proteins and healthy fats. Incorporating physical activity can also support maintaining an ideal weight during pregnancy.
In some cases, medication may be necessary when diet and exercise alone cannot control glucose levels. Medication may be prescribed if you have high blood sugar when first diagnosed or if your levels have not stabilized after 1–2 weeks of dietary and exercise changes. This might be in the form of pills or insulin shots. Even if your blood sugar levels improve early on in pregnancy, you may still need to take medication later on if they rise again. After giving delivery, you can typically stop using these medications.
Medical disclaimer: The information provided is not meant to be a substitute for expert medical advice, diagnosis, or care. Always ask your doctor or another qualified health provider for advice if you have any concerns about a medical issue. Never dismiss or put off getting expert medical advice because of something you read on Bub’s Blog. babybub does not recommend or endorse any specific tests, physicians, products, procedures, opinions, or other information that may be mentioned on this site.