I thought that I did everything right.
I ate a healthy, varied diet. I exercised moderately. I tried to get a decent amount of sleep. So when I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes at 30 weeks, I couldn't believe it at first.
Had I done something to make this happen?
Was it from the occasional bowl of ice cream that I was having? (Ok, maybe more than just occasional).
Did it make me a bad mom before I had even had a chance to meet my baby?
The answer to all of those questions was no, but it took me some time to get there.
In truth, my gestational diabetes was most likely brought on by a combination of genetics and how quickly I gained weight in the first trimester when my poor husband was woken up to my middle of the night cracker binges just to make it through to morning without throwing up.
So maybe you have recently found out that you have gestational diabetes, or maybe you are just planning ahead just in case. Either way, come along with me on the journey that I took to minimise the impact that my diagnosis would have on both myself and my baby.
What is gestational diabetes?
Gestational diabetes is a temporary type of diabetes that comes on during the third trimester of pregnancy and often goes away after you give birth. It can, however, be a sign that you are more at risk of developing diabetes later in life and also increases the risk of your child being diagnosed later on as well.
There are plenty of risk factors that can increase your likelihood of getting it, including:
- Being over 40 years old
- Having an above-average BMI
- A family history of type 2 diabetes
- A history of high blood glucose or PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome)
- Rapid weight gain in early pregnancy.
That's just to name a few, but it can also happen when there are no risk factors at all.
How is gestational diabetes diagnosed?
This type of diabetes is diagnosed during a series of blood tests taken when you are between 26 and 28 weeks pregnant.
You can't eat or drink anything (other than water) from the night before and get the test done the next morning.
First, they take your blood after fasting, then you drink a really sugary drink that they give you within 5 minutes. I had heard that it is pretty disgusting but I actually didn't find it that terrible. Kind of like really sugary flat ginger ale.
At this point, you wait an hour, get blood taken again. Then another hour-long wait, and bloods one last time.
As a hungry pregnant lady, I was absolutely starving by the time it was done.
After all that, I was finally done and could leave to get breakfast. It wasn't until 2 weeks later when I got a call from the midwife that I had been found to have mild gestational diabetes, according to the regulations in Australia.
How is gestational diabetes treated?
In my case, I was pretty lucky. At least, as lucky as you can be after getting diagnosed with this disorder - My gestational diabetes was considered mild enough that I should be able to regulate it with a few tweaks to my diet and lifestyle.
Not everyone is so fortunate though, and some women may need to be put on medications in order to regulate their insulin during the rest of their pregnancy.
Only your doctor or midwife will be able to tell you where you fit on that scale.
I was also booked in to see both a dietitian and a diabetes specialist. And given a blood glucose test kit to test my glucose levels every few hours. In Australia, this was given to me at my first diabetes consultation, and I only had to supply my own test strips. It could be different in your country though, so check with your health professionals.
As much as I was lucky to only have a mildly elevated level of glucose in my blood when I was tested, this still meant that I would have to make some drastic changes to my pregnant lifestyle. You see, despite being relatively healthy and fit before I got pregnant, I had slacked off a bit after surviving the first trimester. Maybe even more than a bit.
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First, I needed to start exercising again on a regular basis.
Pre-pregnancy I was running, I was doing strength training twice a week, I was taking the stairs when I had a chance. And then I got pregnant, and suddenly I was told I couldn't run, I couldn't lift and I should be resting by my doctor. When I asked about how to keep fit during pregnancy, I was told that it should not be a priority and that if I was that worried about it, I could walk a bit.
Being a nervous and clueless first-time mom, I did as I was told.
So imagine my confusion when just a few months later I was being told by the dietician that I should have maintained my fitness during pregnancy and that not doing so could have added to my gestational diabetes risk. Talk about mixed messages.
So I started exercising again. Obviously not to the level that I had been pre-pregnancy, but to a level that was comfortable for me and my now very large size.
At the time that I got pregnant, I ate a somewhat strict sugar-free, gluten-free diet.
The sugar-free part of my diet was purely for vain reasons - I had stopped eating sugar a few months before my wedding when I realised that my dress was just a little bit too tight in some places. After the wedding, I was less strict about it, but I felt good, and so I sort of kept with it.
The gluten-free part of my diet was a bit more complicated. I had stopped eating gluten within the last year due to inflammation issues and pain that only seemed to go away when I stopped eating wheat products.
A few months into my pregnancy, all of these rules (and my self-control) went out the window.
Suddenly I craved sweets and carbs like they were going out of style. The pain that I associated with wheat magically disappeared and I convinced myself that it was best for the baby if I ate a varied diet that included both wheat and occasional sweet treats.
Somehow that meant donuts. Lot and lots of donuts.
Now, months later, I was being told that the white bread and occasional cookie that I was eating were contributing to my health problems. The pain had also started to creep back during the third trimester, and so I was working to take my very loved wheat treats back out of my diet again anyways.
Based on the recommendations by my dietitian, I made myself a graph to remember what was good for me to eat and what was not so good. That infographic can be found below.
Basically, it boiled down to eating a healthy mix of protein, carbs and fats, and cutting out anything processed, salty and sugary.
Admittedly, not the easiest thing to do when at the end of a pregnancy, with the cravings and hunger that go along with it. But so worth it if you can keep your glucose in check without having to be put on medication or insulin - the last resort options if diet and exercise do not help.
At my one week checkup on my glucose levels, I passed with flying colours and was told that I would not need to be put on any pills or insulin, which was a huge relief. Of course, I will need to continue monitoring my progress and that could change down the road should my levels start to creep back up again.
Again, only your doctor or midwife will be able to give you recommendations based on your specific situation, so listen to their advice. This post just outlines my own experience with it so far, and how I was able to deal with it. Your own experience may differ.
Also keep in mind that if you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, you are at increased risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes in the future.
Get tested regularly and continue to exercise and eat a healthy diet long after your little one has left the womb. Diabetes is not known as "the silent killer" for no reason - very often there are no symptoms until it is too late to manage effectively. The sooner you can catch it, the lower the odds that you won't be able to get it under control.
With potential blindness, lost limbs and even your life on the line, prevention and early detection are your friends.