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What is Gestational Diabetes?

If you are diagnosed with Gestational Diabetes during your pregnancy, there are some key things that you need to know to keep you and your baby as healthy as possible.

Finding out you have Gestational Diabetes can be overwhelming, and the very last thing you want to worry about with a new baby only a few weeks away. Gestational diabetes means that you have never been diagnosed with the disease prior, and oh what a time to have to learn the ins and outs. While the exact cause of gestational diabetes hasn’t been determined, doctors do know what you can do to lower your risk and carry a healthy baby to term. Kids in the House spoke to top gestational diabetes experts to help get pregnant mothers and families the support they need.

What is Gestational Diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is the term used to describe pregnant women who have high levels of glucose in their bloodstream but did not have diabetes prior to pregnancy. Their bodies may be producing insulin, but isn’t able to use that insulin to regulate blood sugar levels. The American Diabetes Association believes this happens because hormones from the placenta block the insulin from working, in what is called insulin resistance. It usually occurs during the latter part of the pregnancy, around weeks 24-28 but is screened for during the first trimester in mothers considered high risk.

“It’s diagnosed by a simple screening test, followed by a confirmatory test,” says Chief of Maternal Fetal Medicine at the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles Dr. David Miller, MD.

What Can I Do Once I Have it?

As worrisome as it may be, you will never have to go it alone. Your doctor will work with you to decide on an immediate plan to implement in order to get your gestational diabetes under control.

Treatment plans for gestational diabetes usually include:

  • Diet and Exercise Regimen

Monitoring or modifying the mother’s diet and exercise routine is the first course of action for doctors treating gestational diabetes. Exercise is a way to use up extra glucose in the blood, and switching up the components of your daily meals can prevent too much sugar from building up in your blood.

“Some basic things you need to look out for is when you eat, you want to make sure that you have a balance of carbohydrates and protein and healthy fats at each meal,” says Nutritionist Del Millers, PhD.

But not just any carbohydrates.

Simple carbs, like white bread, cookies, cakes, muffins, and juices, are broken down too quickly and easily into pure sugar, Miller explains. That sugar is then able to go directly into the bloodstream, where some pregnant women are unable to process it.

Stick to complex carbs.

“When you eat complex carbohydrates like oatmeal and whole grains and lots of vegetables and fruits with protein, it slows down the release of those nutrients into the bloodstream dramatically,” explains Miller. “You don’t want to eat things that are going to go right into the bloodstream and cause you to have a sugar high, because again your body cannot use the insulin that it’s producing, so all that sugar is going to remain in the blood stream and possibly get into the placenta.”

  • Blood Glucose Testing to monitor your levels and help determine if your treatment plan is effective or needs to be fortified
  • Insulin Injections are prescribed in more serious cases to provide the mother with extra levels of insulin to supplement what she already has.

Lowering Your Risk

An estimated 20% of women will develop gestational diabetes, and while it may be no fault of your own, you can take certain steps to lower your risk. With the mother’s weight so heavily linked to diabetes, diet and exercise are the two biggest components to consider before and during pregnancy when it comes to avoiding gestational diabetes.

  • Reach a healthy weight before trying to get pregnant, if possible
  • Focus on maintaining a healthy weight while pregnant through diet and exercise

Holistic nutritionist and wellness coach Ling Wong, MS, CHC, warns that eating for two doesn’t mean doubling your calorie intake.

“Remember, you only need 300 to 500 [extra] calories a day during your pregnancy. That translates into one to two snacks, so don’t go overboard,” says Wong, founder and director of Thoughts For Foods Holistic Health Coaching.

More information on Weight and Pregnancy.

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