Gestational Diabetes: Symptoms, Causes and Diet Options

Gestational diabetes in pregnancy is not unusual - it happens to many women and is fairly common in the North America.

Naturally, during pregnancy, you become more sensitive to, and careful about everything that’s happening in and around you. Some pregnant women, especially women who are experiencing pregnancy for the first time, tend to become extremely worried about gestational diabetes.

If you have gestational diabetes, you may have many questions on your mind as well.

Today, we are going to get answers those questions and details on gestational diabetes.

pregnant woman showing excellent glucose levels on her monitor

What is Gestational Diabetes?

Diabetes is defined as high blood sugar levels. Gestational diabetes is the type of diabetes (high blood sugar) that develops only during pregnancy due to hormonal changes.

Signs of gestational diabetes

Some of the tell tale signs of gestational diabetes include:

  • An increased frequent urination
  • An increased thirst
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weight loss even with increased appetite
  • Blurred vision
  • Yeast infection

In some cases, the symptoms of gestational diabetes are not recognized. Therefore, a screening test is required to diagnose it.

Causes for gestational diabetes

Following are the common causes for gestational diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes

Also known as juvenile or insulin-dependent diabetes, it is a generic condition where the pancreas either produces very little or no insulin.  Insulin is the hormone that allows the glucose (sugar) to enter your cells for energy production.

  • Type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is mostly diet related and develops over time. It is when the pancreas produce less insulin than the body needs and the body stops reacting to insulin.

  • Pre-diabetes

A type of diabetes where the blood sugar levels are elevated, but not high enough to be called diabetes

  • Obesity

A condition of being overweight or an excessive fat accumulation that presents a risk to health.

  •  Postpartum depression

This happens to approximately 15% of new moms. After having a baby, you may feel moody and fatigued.  This is normal.  Postpartum depression is a much more severe case of these symptoms where it affects your ability to function day to day.

  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS is a condition where many small, sacs (or cysts) grow inside the ovaries. These sacs each contain an immature egg that never mature enough to trigger ovulation. The lack of ovulation alters levels of estrogen, progesterone, FSH, and LH. Progesterone levels are lower than usual, while androgen 9male sex hormone) levels are higher than usual disrupting the menstrual cycle.

Risk Factors of Gestational Diabetes

pregnant woman with pricked finger to measure glucose levels

Certain factors can increase the risk of a pregnant woman to get gestational diabetes. These factors are as follows:

  • Pre-diabetes 
  • High blood pressure
  • Family history of gestational diabetes
  • Personal history of gestational diabetes
  • Family history of type 2 diabetes
  • Suffering from some kind of hormonal disorder such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • Being overweight, or a rapid weight gain during pregnancy Being older than 25
  • Being of Africa, American, Indian, Asian, Hispanic, or Pacific Islander descent
  • Having an experience of giving birth to a baby that is weighed at least 9 pounds or had a baby defect
  • Having an experience of unexplained stillbirth or miscarriage

In addition to these risk factors, women can also get gestational diabetes because of the changes in placental hormones.

Can I Get Gestational Diabetes If I Am Not Pregnant?

Gestational diabetes only occurs in pregnant women. This means that this condition is only a pregnancy-related disease.

Why Do Pregnant Women Get Gestational Diabetes?

When you are pregnant, your body goes through several hormonal changes. As a consequence of these fluctuating hormones, the level of insulin (a hormone) fluctuates at greater levels.

Insulin is the hormone that allows our body cells to use and control sugar or glucose for energy. When you are pregnant you need more glucose and your body naturally resists more insulin.

In some cases, this process is reversed. In this condition, our body does not produce enough insulin and as a result, your body will not get the necessary amount of glucose.

This results in an increase in the level of sugar in your blood which leads to gestational diabetes.

Is gestational diabetes harmful?

Gestational Diabetes is usually not a harmful condition and poses no threat to your pregnancy. It can be easily managed through diet or exercise.

Can gestational diabetes go away on its own?

Usually, gestational diabetes goes away right away after childbirth. However, some women report as having type 2 diabetes after childbirth.

How To Control Gestational Diabetes With Diet

As mentioned earlier, you can control gestational diabetes. This is usually done through healthy diet and exercise. Keep reading for foods that help specifically with gestational diabetes.

meal planning for gestational diabetes

What food should you eat with gestational diabetes?

Eating a balanced diet can help you successfully overcome the symptoms of gestational diabetes.

Guideline for a gestational diabetes meal plan

  • Eat only fresh and healthy.
  • You have to control your portion sizes. Choose a smaller sized plate to help you eat smaller portions.
  • Proteins are beneficial when you have gestational diabetes therefore you should eat a protein-rich meal.
  • Your food should be rich in nutrients with a high amount of protein, healthy fats, and fiber.
  • Consume a balanced amount of carbohydrates and fats.
  • Add fruits and vegetables to your daily diet. Fruits and vegetables are also effective with gestational diabetes.

Meal planning for gestational diabetes

We have prepared a list of suitable foods that you should take when diagnosed with gestational diabetes.

Snacking

Research shows that snacks help to keep blood sugar levels stable throughout the day. But you also need to choose healthy snacks.

Here is a list of some healthy snacks that you can enjoy with gestational diabetes.

Snacks made with Fresh or Frozen Vegetables

Fresh vegetables prove very helpful with gestational diabetes. Veggies can be eaten in a variety of ways. You can eat veggies roasted, raw, or steamed.

You can also include protein sources such as hummus and cheese. In this way, you can make your meal more interesting.

Veggie omelet

A veggie omelet is a delicious choice. Make a tasty vegetable omelet with whole vegetables or egg whites.

Whole eggs are a rich source of various nutrients and white eggs provide proteins.

Other food includes:

  • Steel-cut oatmeal topped with pumpkin seeds.
  • Unsweetened coconut.
  • Berries.
  • Fresh fruit paired with nuts or nut butter.
  • Turkey or chicken breast.
  • Baked fish such as salmon and trout.
  • Sweet potato toast topped with mashed avocado and cherry tomatoes.
  • Unsweetened Greek yogurt topped with sunflower seeds, cinnamon, and diced apple.
  • Berries are low in sugar and high in fiber. You can also freeze them and make a crunchy topping with them

What to avoid during gestational diabetes:

  • First of all limit or completely avoid processed food such as:
    • White bread
    • Fast food
    • Alcoholic beverages
    • Baked goods such as cakes donuts muffins
    • Freud food
    • Sugary drinks
    • Sweetened beverages
    • Candy
    • Starchy foods
    • Sweetened cereals
    • Sweetened oatmeal
  • You should avoid overeating during gestational diabetes.
  • An increased amount of carbohydrates can lead to a spike in your blood sugar. Therefore, you should take a balanced amount of carbohydrates.

During pregnancy, carbohydrates tolerance varies among pregnant women. According to studies, a diet containing less than 40 percent of total calories from carbs is considered ideal. This amount of carbohydrate intake can help to promote optimal blood sugar levels control.

Related: Which Foods And How Much To Eat When Pregnant

How to deal with junk food cravings?

Sometimes you may have a heavy craving for junk food during the pregnancy.  But you don't need to worry because we have the solution for it too.

When you are craving carbohydrates, choose foods like legumes, whole grains, starchy veggies such as sweet potatoes and butternut squash.

Sometimes you are craving fried foods - the craving for french fries can be so hard to resist. But you should try to find a healthy alternative.

Complication With Gestational Diabetes

There can be a number of complications with gestational diabetes during pregnancy. Here are some:

  • Weight gain
  • An extra-large baby
  • Difficulty in delivery
  • High blood pressure (Preeclampsia)
  • Low blood sugar (Hypoglycemia)

Treatment And Medication For Gestational Diabetes

Healthy food accompanied with exercise will help to treat gestational diabetes. Regular exercise for 30 minutes 5 days a week is ideal to get rid of gestational diabetes. It is better to consult your doctor before starting any kind of exercise.

Related: Exercises To Do During Pregnancy

Some women might need special medication or injectable insulin that helps to lower blood sugar.

treatment medication for gestational diabetes

What Should I Do After Being Diagnosed With Gestational Diabetes?

If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes or at risk of developing gestational diabetes talk to your doctor . Ask your doctor for a registered dietitian who specializes in gestational diabetes or nutrition in pregnancy.

A dietitian will help you with meal planning after observing you. (S)he will provide you with a diet plan that is healthy for your pregnancy with the foods you like.

Final Thoughts

You don’t need to be worry if you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes during your pregnancy. A healthy diet accompanied by exercise will help to promote a healthy pregnancy, labor, and delivery.

Talk to your health care provider about the right food and physical activity. Your doctor will recommend the best treatment that helps to keep you and your baby safe in the long term.

 

 

 

 

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