Pregnancy is usually an exciting event in a woman’s life but it is definitely not one of the easiest times. The body undergoes a host of changes to cater for the growing fetus and prepare for childbirth as well nursing thereafter. Although many women have a healthy and disease-free pregnancy, there are a host of conditions that can arise during this time. One of the common complications associated with pregnancy is gestational diabetes. It is condition where the body’s ability to regulate the blood glucose levels is impaired. There are several implications for both mother and baby, and pregnancy diabetes should not be taken lightly.
Starts midway through pregnancy
Gestational diabetes does not usually arise in the first trimester of pregnancy unless you are at high risk. In most instances it starts between 24 to 28 weeks into your pregnancy so it is important to be vigilant. Your doctor should send you for an oral glucose tolerance test around this time to screen for gestational diabetes. Women with known risk factors may be screened even earlier in pregnancy. It is therefore important to test midway through your pregnancy even if you had the all clear at an earlier stage. A finger prick test will not do for diagnosis. You need an oral glucose tolerance test.
No symptoms of diabetes
Most of us know that excessive thirst and increased urination are the typical symptoms of diabetes. But these symptoms are rare in gestational diabetes. The majority of pregnant women with gestational diabetes are asymptomatic, meaning that they experience no symptoms. However, the lack of symptoms should not be misleading. The various complications of diabetes that can affect your baby and pregnancy may still occur even though you feel well and have no diabetes symptoms. However, gestational diabetes increases the risk of preeclampsia and eclampsia which may present with certain symptoms.
Sugary foods are not the cause
The exact cause of gestational diabetes is not conclusively known. It is most likely exclusively a hormonal mechanism as the various hormones produced in the placenta have been found to block insulin, the pancreatic hormone that usually lowers blood glucose levels. Eating sugary foods early in your pregnancy does not cause gestational diabetes. It is only normal to have cravings for different foods and to eat moderately extra during pregnancy. However, if your sweet tooth is contributing to excess weight gain then it is this additional weight that can increase the risk for developing pregnancy diabetes.
Miscarriage and fetal defects
Most women know about the risk of delivering a big baby as a result of gestational diabetes. Birth defects are not common is a result of gestational diabetes as the baby has formed. But there are serious complications if you develop gestational diabetes early in your pregnancy or have been diabetic before falling pregnant.
In the first trimester of pregnancy, diabetes can result in fetal defects mainly involving the cardiovascular and central nervous systems. Congenital anomalies involving the gastrointestinal, genitorurinary and skeletal system may also been seen. Miscarriage can occur in the first trimester as a result of diabetes, usually with pre-existing diabetes.
Glucose Control Without Drugs
Diabetes, whether it occurs in pregnancy or not, can be managed with diet and exercise. Medication is important but in pregnancy, your doctor will first advise you on managing your blood glucose levels with diet and exercise. Take responsibility for your health by committing to a proper diet for diabetics and a moderate exercise program. These measures alone may be sufficient. Do not become dependent on a pharmaceutical solution to your glucose problem. It is only when diet and exercise fails to keep your blood glucose levels within a normal range that antidiabetic medication will be considered.
Foods to eat and avoid
Although most women feel that pregnancy is one of the times when they can let go and eat as they wish, moderation should always be practiced. With gestational diabetes, you will have to be much more conscientious about what you eat.
- Do not get more than 50% of your daily calorie intake from carbohydrates.
- Opt for low glycemic index carbs like durum wheat pasta, brown rice and high-fiber unrefined starches.
- Minimize your intake of refined carbohydrates and sugar in particular.
- Moderate your fat intake but do not cut it out altogether from your daily diet.
- Diversify your protein intake. It is not only meat that is high in protein. Eggs, nuts and dry beans all have a good protein content.
- Avoid frying your foods. Instead grill, roast or bake.
- Stay away from the junk foods, candy and sugary baked goods.
Moderate exercise in pregnancy
You may not be up to exercising during pregnancy and feel that you should be resting as much as possible. But sitting or lying down all day can do more harm than good. Always speak to your doctor first and if there is no risk of complications with activity, then start a moderate exercise program. Not only will it make you feel better and prevent excessive weight gain, exercise will also improve your glucose tolerance.
- Try to exercise for at least 20 minutes at a time about 4 to 5 weeks in a day.
- Brisk walking is sufficient and you should not run or jog frequently in the late stages of pregnancy.
- Swimming is one of the better options. There is no strain on the bones, muscles or joint and it works out the entire body.
- Simple aerobics programs and yoga can be done at home but look around for classes for pregnant mothers in your area.
- Wake up and walk around often. Do not slip into the habit of being served by others just because you are pregnant.
Breastfeeding Can Help
Women suffering with gestational diabetes can breastfeed their babies. It is important that the mother ensures adequate intake of nutrition and many meals in a day to maintain a constant supply of nutrients. In fact breastfeeding has several health benefits for both the baby and mother. Women suffering with gestational diabetes are at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes and breastfeeding can reduce the risk.
Even if your diabetes resolves, breastfeeding can be helpful in losing the pregnancy pounds. Therefore breastfeeding is encouraged for mothers who can fit it into their schedule. Your baby’s risk of type 2 diabetes and obesity, which is high if you had gestational diabetes, can also be reduced by breastfeeding after birth.