Gestational diabetes affects approximately 3% to 8% of all pregnant women in the United States, and can lead to delivery complications and health problems for both the mother and newborn child. Luckily, however, the symptoms and health impact of gestational diabetes can most often be controlled through simple dietary measures and lifestyle changes.

Here’s what you need to know.

What is gestational diabetes?

Gestational diabetes mellitus (commonly known as gestational diabetes or GDM) is diabetes that develops during pregnancy, usually after the 20th week. The condition develops when pregnancy related hormones adversely affect the body’s ability to manage blood sugar levels optimally, meaning that your blood sugar levels run slightly higher than what is considered to be desirable and healthy.

Mothers with GDM are at an increased risk for developing Type 2 diabetes later in life, and are also more likely to have gestational diabetes with future pregnancies. Babies born to untreated mothers with GDM may have a higher than normal birth weight, or macrosomnia, which can lead to problems during delivery. GDM also puts babies at a higher risk for developing low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), jaundice, breathing problems, or in later adult life, Type 2 diabetes and weight problems.

Certain factors like obesity, high blood pressure, age (being over 25), and family history of diabetes may put women at a greater risk for developing GDM. However, half of the women who develop GDM have none of the associated risk factors.

What can you do to manage gestational diabetes?

The good news is that gestational diabetes and its related complications can be prevented and managed with diet, exercise, and regular blood sugar monitoring, though medication may be needed at times. At LifeStyle Medical Center, we typically work in collaboration with your primary care physician and OBGYN to develop a specialized plan based on your unique circumstances, including dietary preferences, exercise routine, and lifestyle habits.

Here are some of the things you can do to help treat and manage GDM:

  • Modify your diet to decrease your intake of sugar, sugary foods and beverages as well as refined carbohydrate foods.
  • Exercise regularly with moderate, low-impact activities, which will help your body use and metabolize blood sugar better and more effectively.
  • Keep food records and use measuring cups or a food scale to ensure you know exactly what and how much you are eating at each meal or snack throughout the day.
  • Consult with a dietitian, who can help you determine the amount and types of food that you need to include into your daily diet, to promote the optimal growth for your baby, while at the same time helping to control your blood sugar levels effectively.
  • Check your blood sugar levels daily with a glucometer. Talk to your doctor about how often you should test your blood sugar levels.
  • Get regular medical checkups with your doctor, who can test your blood pressure, weight, and urine, and monitor fetal growth and health.

If changing your eating and exercise habits does not work to lower your blood sugar levels, your doctor may prescribe medication to treat gestational diabetes.

What is a healthy prenatal diet for managing GDM?

Eating healthily is one of the most important ways to manage gestational diabetes and regulate blood sugar levels in order to decrease the risks for you and your baby. The following recommendations may be helpful to you, as you strive to manage GDM:

  • Avoid high-sugar foods. As a general rule, stay away from sugary desserts, cakes, cookies, sugar sweetened sodas, jelly, candy, as well as added sugars like honey, syrup and cane sugar. Many artificial sweeteners have been approved as safe to eat during pregnancy, but check with your doctor or registered dietitian about which ones are okay for you.
  • Balance your carbohydrate intake. Give preference to fresh wholesome carbohydrate foods such as such as fruit, vegetables and wholegrain foods, which can help to control of blood sugar levels. It is important to remember that good quality carbohydrate foods contain important nutrients needed for you and your developing baby. “Balancing” intake means that you should include these foods in controlled proportion into your diet, in order to control the effect they will have on blood sugar levels that usually rise after eating.
  • Eat fiber-rich fruits without added sugar. Fresh, frozen, and even canned fruits without added sugar are the best options. Avoid dried fruits and fruit juices, because these are concentrated sources of carbohydrate and calories. Keep the portion sizes of fruit moderate in order to manage the amount of carbohydrate consumed at one time and in turn the impact this can have on your blood sugar levels.
  • Eat Died Beans, Legumes and Whole grains. Legumes include: garbanzo beans, butter beans, navy beans and other dried beans, peas, and lentils. These foods are good sources of vegetable protein, are naturally low in fat, are a source of good quality carbohydrate, and contain important vitamins and minerals such as folate, iron and potassium, as well as fiber important for maintaining a healthy diet during pregnancy. Whole grain foods are also excellent sources of fiber, which has been associated with better control of blood sugar levels as well as appetite. Brown rice, barley, quinoa, spelt, popcorn, corn-on-the-cob, rolled oatmeal are some examples of suitable wholegrain foods.
  • Eat lots of vegetables. Vegetables are an important source of vitamins and minerals, as well as soluble and insoluble fiber. Adequate intake of vegetables and salads will also help to manage blood sugar levels, as well as optimizing your intake of important vitamins and minerals that are needed during pregnancy.
  • Stick to low-fat dairy products. Milk, cheese, yogurt, and other dairy items are good sources of calcium, protein, vitamins, and minerals. They also contain some carbohydrate that should be considered when working to optimize control of blood sugar levels. Be sure to read food labels, and choose dairy product without added sugar as far as you are able to.
  • Opt for lean meats and healthy fats. Stay away from foods that fatty, such as fried chicken, sausages, foods dressed in creamy sauces, and high fat snack foods, such a potato crisps, salted refined crackers and sour cream dips. Instead, choose lean meat, chicken without skin, fish and eggs, and avoid foods with too much added oil, butter, or margarine.

We are here to help you manage Gestational Diabetes Mellitus for better health

We know how scary it can be to find out that you have gestational diabetes, but you don’t have to tackle it by yourself. While you are the most important activist in promoting your healthy pregnancy, it is also critical to receive testing, monitoring, and guidance from a qualified provider for the most successful management and treatment of GDM.

Contact us today to learn more about how our team of doctors, nurse practitioners, and registered dietitians can help craft a plan to manage your GDM and make sure you are laying the foundations for a healthy, successful pregnancy.