What is gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes that happens during pregnancy. It means that your body is not using a hormone called insulin the way it should, or your body is not making enough of it. When this happens your blood sugar increases. Having high blood sugar during pregnancy increases the risk of certain complications during pregnancy, including: preeclampsia, having a very large baby (macrosomia), premature birth, and having a c-section.
Here are some things you can do to help you manage and treat your gestational diabetes:
- Prenatal care: Women who have gestational diabetes need to have more prenatal care checkups. This helps your healthcare provider verify that you and your baby are doing ok.
- Monitor blood sugar: You will need to check your blood sugar regularly and keep a log. This can help your provider monitor your treatment. You may need to use a specific device to measure your blood sugar.
- Eat healthy foods: Choosing healthy foods, eating the right portion sizes and having regular meals are key to help you control your blood sugar.
- Being active: Physical activity helps regulate your blood sugar. Ask your provider how much and what type of activity is best for you. It’s ok for most women to do 30 minutes of moderate physical activity (like walking, riding a stationary bike) a day.
- Medication: Your provider may recommend the use of insulin to control your blood sugar. In certain situations, an oral medication might be indicated. Your provider will give you more information according to your specific needs.
Healthy eating for gestational diabetes
The best way to make sure you are eating the right amount and types of food is to visit a registered dietitian nutritionist (also called RDN). A RDN can create an individualized nutritional plan tailored to your likes, dislikes, and your specific needs. Eating well is one of the most important steps in controlling your blood sugar and reducing the risks associated with gestational diabetes. Here are some things you can do:
- Don’t skip meals. The best way to keep your blood sugar level from dropping or spiking is to eat regularly. This means not skipping meals. Make sure you eat breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. You might also need to have 2-3 small snacks a day. The goal is to spread your calories during the day and avoid spending many hours without eating or eating too much in one meal.
- Portion sizes. You will need to eat frequently, but you also need to be careful not to overeat. Learn about how many calories you need to eat every day and make sure you are eating the right portion sizes. For example, one small banana (about 6”) counts as one portion, while a big banana (about 9”) counts as two.
- Learn about carbohydrates. You will need to keep track of the amount of carbohydrates you eat per meal. This is the first step in managing your blood sugar. Foods that contain carbohydrates are: fruits, rice, pasta, potatoes, bread, milk and beans, among many others. Your RDN can make a nutritional plan that specifies the portion sizes you need of each in your meals. Certain foods that contain carbohydrates and are also high in fiber are beans, lentils and oatmeal. These are a good source of carbohydrates for women with gestational diabetes. The fiber content in these foods and the type of carbohydrate takes longer to digest and will help your blood sugar stay within your target range.
- Proteins and fat. Make sure you eat lean proteins like chicken breast, fish low in mercury, legumes, eggs, and low fat dairy products among others. About 20 percent of your calories should come from protein sources. Healthy fats like avocado, olive oil, almonds, and nuts are good choices. Limit the amount of butter, cream, high fat meats or fried foods.
- Vegetables are your best friend. Make sure you eat plenty of vegetables and leafy greens every day. Be adventurous and try new recipes. You might get inspired while you visit the farmers market. Ask about how to cook vegetables you’re not familiar with or ask for recipes. You might get great suggestions. Eat a variety of colors like spinach, cauliflower, yellow squash, pumpkin, beets, etc. This will help you consume a variety of nutrients too.
- It’s ok to use artificial sweeteners. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) sugar substitutes such as aspartame, stevia, sucralose and acesulfame potassium are thought to be safe to eat in moderate amounts during pregnancy. Women with a metabolic disorder known as phenylketonuria (PKU) should not have aspartame (sold as NutraSweet® or Equal®) because it contains the amino acid (phenylalanine) that their bodies can’t break down.
- Limit or avoid certain foods. Avoid foods that are concentrated on added or simple sugars like sodas, desserts, cookies, candies, fruit juice, dried fruits, syrups, honey, agave syrup, among others. These types of foods have very low or no nutritional value, and will increased your blood sugar. Limit them as much as possible.