As wonderful a time as pregnancy can be, it may also be a an intensely frightening minefield ! When our health and by extension the health of our totally dependent, unborn babies are at risk it is terrifying!!! The predominant worry of most of the mothers I know is what gestational diabetes (GD) means for their fragile, little baba? With such a bewildering mess of information out there for concerned moms my aim is to add a bit of clarity to the subject! I’ve been there myself and let me tell you, its much less scary armed with a clear understanding of the facts!
During my first pregnancy, I totally mismanaged my mental health along with my anti-depressant medication, resulting in a severe episode of postnatal depression. I was adamant that I would not fall into the same trap the next time! As soon as I found out I was pregnant with number two, I signed myself with a wonderful psychiatrist specializing in pregnant patients! I was confident that I had my health under control. I went along to my diabetes-check appointment thinking it a mere formality, seeing as how I didn’t get it in my first pregnancy! …………. I was wrong!
WHAT IS GESTATIONAL DIABETES
Gestational diabetes is a condition in which blood sugar levels are higher then the expected range during pregnancy. It usually becomes apparent in the second or third trimester.
A certain amount of sugar in the blood is normal and serves a purpose! Carbohydrates are just long branches of sugar. Our bodies break them down into simple sugars (glucose) to be used as energy. When we have used as much glucose as we need for energy at a given time, the rest is removed from the blood by INSULIN! When insulin is either under-produced or stops working efficiently, blood sugar increases resulting in diabetes!
WHAT CAUSES GESTATIONAL DIABETES AND CAN I PREVENT IT?
Pregnancy hormones cause a certain amount of insulin resistance. By slowing the removal of glucose from the blood, it is thought that a glucose supply to the fetus may be secured. In some women however, they become unable to compensate for the insulin resistance and blood glucose levels raise too high.
You cannot definitively prevent GD but you can certainly give yourself a fighting chance with a healthy diet and regular exercise. Please do not play the blame game! Motherhood creates an abundance of reasons for us mothers to feel an insurmountable torrent of guilt! Please don’t add this to the pile. Genetics and other factors are also in play… along with a dash of bad luck. Some women are free to lounge around and load up on chocolate and ice-cream (2 of my own personal addictions!) without ever getting the disease!!!
WHO IS AT RISK?
Its is possible for any pregnant woman to develop GD and studies have shown that 40-60% of patients have no demonstrative risk factor!!!!!
The main risk factors are:
- Being overweight
- Having polycystic ovarian syndrome
- Being over 35 years of age
- Having had diabetes or a very large baby in a previous pregnancy
- Being an ethnicity other then Caucasian
- Being a smoker (this actually DOUBLES your risk!!!)
- There have been studies also even linking depression and anxiety to diabetes!!!
The symptoms of GD are often overlooked as most are pregnancy “symptoms ” as well, but they are:
- increased thirst
- increased urination
- nausea and vomiting
- Bladder infection
- blurred vision
WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP CONTROL IT?
Don’t panic! In most cases, eating a well balanced and healthy diet along with regular (moderate) exercise will do the trick! This is fantastic advice for everyone all of the time anyway!
There are a bunch of complicated menus and rules out there but try not to get bogged down… its mostly common sense.
- Cut out processed sugar of all kinds.
- Instead of white pasta, rice, crackers and bread -swap for wholegrain and brown. This slows down sugar entering the bloodstream.
- Eat a portion of lean protein (eg. cheese, meat, beans, nuts) with every meal for the same reason.
- Don’t start cutting calories below 2300-2500 as baby still need energy to grow.
- Take it easy on fruit (especially dried fruit)… Fruit is a really healthy food but contains alot of suger. Definitely keep it in your d diet but just eat in moderation!
- Take extra care in the morings as blood sugar tends to be naturally higher then. 2 scoops of porridge in water or 2 slices brown bread with an egg are an ideal breakfasts!!!
- Quit smoking!
As regards exercise, even working a moderate walk into you day makes a ginormous difference! Be careful though, not to overdo any particular form of exercise and get advice from a professional who can help you plan a routine, that coincides with your fitness level safely.
That is pretty much it!
A friend of mine made a few simple changes to her diet and even started baking her own delicious brown bread (shop bought bread can be full of sugar, along with all kinds of preservatives and the likes). She also incorporated walking into her daily routine. She managed to keep control over her blood sugars without meds and was lighter shortly after her baby was born, then she was beforehand. That’s the dream right???
IF IT CAN’T BE CONTROLLED?
Don’t panic! It happens! And there is always a plan B!
No matter how hard I tried or how strict I was with my diet, my stubborn blood sugar levels would not come down! Mommy guilt kicked in and I was devastated. I was going to have to inject myself with needles! It all seemed so overwhelming and I felt like I had failed some how! This was of course a bunch of nonsense!!! For a load of reasons genetic and otherwise, this just happens and it is completely out of your control. The nurses in the hospital were so supportive and helped me every step of the way. The insulin injections are completely painless!!!!! The needles are so tiny and skinny you can barely feel a thing!
Yeah, its a bit inconvenient to go to extra hospital appointments and to remember to take insulin (or sometimes tablets), but its all in you and your child’s best interest and it is for such a short period of time!
WHAT ARE THE POTENTIAL RISKS TO MY BABY?
Don’t panic! Whether by diet or medication, if you keep your blood sugar under control there is minimal risk to your baby!
Working closely with medical staff to get insulin/ medication levels stabilized is paramount! Consistently high and uncontrolled blood sugar, unfortunately, can lead to the baby growing to large which in turn increases the risk of having an instrumental delivery (e.g forceps) or cesarean section. Large babies born to these mothers are high risk for having low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and respiratory distress as lungs are often not able to mature properly and getting oxygen around its larger body is more difficult! With screening and proper care, this can usually be avoided though. And if these this occur, it at worst it usually means a little time in the ICU and a slightly longer stay in hospital!
WHAT DOES IT MEAN FOR ME LONG TERM?
Don’t Panic! As soon as you give birth, you are generally considered free of diabetes!
A hospital check a few weeks later usually confirms this. Having had GD, statistically you are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes later in life. Again, if you are consistently within a healthy weight range, eat healthily and exercise regularly you give yourself the best chance of staying clear of it. Type 2 diabetes is usually linked with excessive weight gain and inactivity although genetic factors also play a role.
I am not a medical doctor and you should always follow professional advice of course. I merely hope to share my knowledge! This has largely been gained from my own experience and research. I Hope to give you some clarity, thus alleviating some fears.
Thanks for reading,