07.19.22 4 min read

Gestational Diabetes: What You Need to Know

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You knew pregnancy might give you cankles, make your waistline expand while also giving you luscious locks, but did you know it can also cause a condition known as gestational diabetes? Just another fun twist and turn on the rollercoaster to parenthood! Read on for a quick breakdown and some helpful tips on next steps if you test positive. 

What is gestational diabetes?

Gestational diabetes (GD) is a type of glucose intolerance that develops specifically during pregnancy. GD is caused primarily by pregnancy hormones released by your placenta that help your baby grow and develop. 

Unfortunately, these hormones also impact insulin receptors. When these receptors are impacted, your blood sugar levels stay elevated longer than they should, which can lead to serious complications. 

How to test.

Around 28 weeks of pregnancy, every pregnant woman is given a glucose liquid to drink an hour before an appointment with your OB. Because GD is primarily caused by hormones, you do not need to fast or change your diet in any way before this test. 

It’s pretty common for OBs to send patients home with the glucose at the 24-week appointment, you keep the liquid in your fridge and drink it an hour before you head into your 28-week appointment. The liquid usually tastes like a fountain soda without any carbonation – we highly recommend drinking it very cold

Once at the office, your blood will be drawn to check your blood glucose level. If it’s in the normal range, there are no further steps. 

If it’s too high, you will go in for a more rigorous glucose tolerance test. Your healthcare provider will give you all the details, but, usually, for the second round, you do need to fast before your test. You will get your blood drawn first, drink another glucose liquid, and then have your blood drawn a few more times. Since you cannot eat before or during the appointment, it is critical to bring snacks or even a full meal to eat once you’re finished before driving home. You can feel quite woozy after that much fasting, sugar drinking and blood drawing!

What to do if you test positive.

First of all, take a deep breath and then, most importantly, bag the guilt. Again, this is not because you’ve been munching on chocolate croissants and graham crackers (just us?). This is primarily hormonal, and those hormones help your baby grow and thrive. GD is just an unfortunate side effect of that process.

GD usually resolves after you give birth, but during pregnancy you will have to follow the treatment plan given to you by your healthcare provider and monitor your blood sugar level to keep it under control. 

Uncontrolled blood sugar levels can increase the risk for complications for you and your baby. On top of monitoring, your healthcare provider may recommend taking a few extra steps to keep your blood sugar levels under control, like the ones we’ve outlined below. 

1. Balance your diet.

Given the impact your hormones are having on your insulin receptors, you will want to limit your intake of carbohydrates and sugary foods. Stick to mainly whole grains, fruits, and vegetables for carbs and pair them with fat or protein. Good examples of snacks are:

  • Apples with peanut butter
  • Dark chocolate and almonds
  • Banana and greek yogurt
  • Whole-grain cracker with cheese

If you have any questions about managing your blood sugar, don’t hesitate to meet with a dietitian. They can help you form a custom plan and understand how food affects your blood sugar. 

2. Move your body.

While it could be daunting to think about exercise if you’re feeling pregnancy aches and pains, it’s a great option for all pregnant women, but especially those with GD. A 2013 study found that moderate-intensity exercise done 3 times per week during pregnancy reduced the risk of maternal and infant complications related to gestational diabetes. Additionally, exercise can help with maintaining healthy weight gain throughout your pregnancy; which is important since rapid weight gain can exacerbate GD. 

Finally, regular exercise can help you prepare for the real marathon – childbirth. Working with a specialized physical therapist, especially those with pelvic floor experience, can help with any strength, flexibility, or muscle pain concerns during pregnancy.  As always, talk to your healthcare provider first and listen to your body – start slow and build up!

3. Get enough sleep.

This is a challenging proposition during pregnancy given the limited sleep positions available, the constant need to pee, and a baby that most likely likes to move-it-move-it as soon as you lie down. But sleep is critical to your blood sugar levels. Studies show that increasing your sleep from 5 hours to 8 hours could lower your blood sugar levels by 6-18 mg/dL during the day. 

Need help getting those hours up? Try these tips:

  • Try to establish and stick with a bedtime and wake-up schedule
  • Sleep in a cool, dark, quiet room (try black out shades and a white noise machine or fan)
  • Avoid screens 30 minutes before bed
  • Try relaxing activities like reading, meditation (I love a good audiobook)
  • Visit an acupuncturist– a 2020 study showed that acupuncture treatments improved sleep quality in pregnant women 

Again, the most important thing is to keep calm, let go of any feelings of guilt or shame, and follow the treatment plan laid out by your healthcare provider. Between 2-10 out of every 100 pregnancies will be affected by GD, which is why every pregnant woman has to be tested for it. Given its prevalence, give yourself a break and trust your provider’s plan for how to manage it. You’ll be back to chocolate croissants in no time!