Gestational Diabetes: It’s Not Your Fault

gestational diabetes

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Have you heard whispers about gestational diabetes (GDM) from other moms? Maybe you’re worried about the test yourself but don’t panic. According to the International Diabetes Federation, roughly 1 in 7 births are affected by GDM; which is a form of diabetes that develops during pregnancy. It happens when your body can’t make enough insulin or use it effectively, leading to high blood sugar levels. 

While it sounds scary, know this: Gestational Diabetes is not your fault, and with proper care, you can have a healthy pregnancy and birth.

Understanding Gestational Diabetes

During pregnancy, your placenta produces hormones that help your baby grow. Unfortunately, some of these hormones can interfere with your body’s ability to use insulin. This can lead to GD, even if you had normal blood sugar levels before pregnancy.

Risk Factors

Every pregnancy is different and while anyone can develop GD, certain factors are known to increase the risk:

  • Larger bodies 
  • Women over the age of 25
  • A family history of diabetes
  • Belonging to certain ethnicities
  • Having had GD in a previous pregnancy
  • Giving birth to a larger sized baby (over 9 pounds) previously

Symptoms to Watch For

Many women with GD experience no symptoms- which is why it’s usually a surprise to new moms. However, some may experience:

  • Excessive thirst and urination
  • Unusual fatigue
  • Nausea and vomiting (who doesn’t?)
  • Blurry vision
  • Frequent yeast infections
  • Unexplained weight loss

Screening and Diagnosis

Routine practice is for all pregnant women to undergo GD screening in the second trimester (between 24 and 28 weeks). The status quo test usually involves drinking a sugary drink (AKA the Glucola) and then getting your blood sugar levels checked. Depending on the results, you might need a more detailed test to confirm GD.

After doing my own research when I was pregnant, I had major reservations about the Glucola. For starters, I have always been terrified of needles- so I was dreading the blood test (and freaking out about the subsequent 3 hours test thought could potentially follow…and I hadn’t even failed the first screen yet…). Then I got a look at the ingredient list, and that’s when I put my foot down. 

  • Brominated vegetable oil 
  • BHA (a carcinogen)
  • Artificial colors
  • ‘Natural flavors’ 

I also learned through reading multiple studies, that many women who eat a low-carb diet regularly, often fail the test…I wasn’t about to set myself up for an anxiety attack. So I declined the Glucola test altogether. 

I looked into all of my options-

  • The Fresh Test
  • Testing my blood sugar at home
  • A wearable glucose monitor
  • As well as some alternatives to the Glucola drink, such as jelly beans etc. 

I decided that, for myself personally, it made a lot of sense to test my blood sugar at home. Despite my fear of needles, it was quite easy and a lot less painful than I anticipated. I immediately detected that my sugar levels were normal throughout the day (testing 2 hours after meals, 3x per day) but that my fasting sugars were slightly high. After a couple of weeks of collecting data and making some minor alterations to my diet, I was able to consistently keep my fasting numbers in-check. And let me tell you, it felt really good to take matters into my own hands. 

The Impact of Gestational Diabetes on Birth

Uncontrolled GD can pose risks for both mom and baby. Key word- UNCONTROLLED. While most women with GD can have a natural, vaginal birth, there’s a slightly higher chance of needing a C-section….which you can say about almost every variation of normal. Additionally, uncontrolled GD can potentially increase the risk of high blood pressure (preeclampsia) and require closer monitoring during labor.

Impact on Your Baby:

Uncontrolled GD can lead to complications for your baby, including:

  • Macrosomia (large birth size)
  • Breathing problems after birth
  • Low blood sugar
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin due to high bilirubin levels)
  • Increased risk of childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes later in life

Taking Control:

The good news: GD is manageable! I’m living proof of that. Keeping your blood sugar levels under control is key. Here’s how:

  • Diet Changes: As a pregnancyv coach, I’ve helped a ton of pregnant women create a healthy pregnancy food map that balances carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats, without sacrificing calories or nutrients. 
  • Exercise: Regular physical activity can significantly improve blood sugar control. I love to recommend walking to my clients, and am always happy to customize a movement plan for each trimester. 
  • Insulin Therapy: In some rare cases, you might need medication or insulin injections to manage your blood sugar levels effectively. The important thing is to understand all of your options so you can make decisions from an informed place.

Looking Ahead:

GD usually disappears after birth. However, it’s important to get screened again 6-8 weeks postpartum. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can significantly reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. 

Decreasing Risk:

Here are some ways to potentially reduce your risk of Gestational Diabetes and address common misconceptions:

  • Move Your Body: Aim for regular movement before and during pregnancy.
  • Eat Well: Focus on a balanced diet high in fiber and low in processed foods.

Myth Busting!

  • Myth 1: It’s My Fault! – Not true! GD is a hormonal issue during pregnancy.
  • Myth 2: No More Carbs – Not quite. Carbohydrates are essential, but balance them with protein and healthy fats.
  • Myth 3: Gym Required – Focus on enjoyable activities like walks or yoga to keep your blood sugar in check.
  • Myth 4: Sugar is Forbidden – Mindful eating and including favorite foods in moderation is key.
  • Myth 5: Restrictive Diets Help….(Wrong) Focus on intuitive eating with support from a coach to nourish your body and mind.

Remember, Gestational Diabetes is manageable. With evidence-based information and the right support, you can have a healthy pregnancy and a happy, healthy baby. Share your personal experience with GD screening in the comments. Talking about our own experiences helps to build solidarity at a time that can often feel isolating. Join my free Facebook group today if you’re looking to connect with other moms- I promise you’ll feel at home. 

References

Morgan, S. (2023, March). The truth about gestational diabetes. Edward-Elmhurst Health. https://www.eehealth.org/blog/2023/03/gestational-diabetes/

What every pregnant woman should know about gestational diabetes: The endocrine center: Endocrinology, diabetes and thyroid specialists. (2024). The Endocrine Center: Endocrinology, Diabetes and Thyroid Specialists: Houston, TX. https://www.endocrinecenter.com/blog/what-every-pregnant-woman-should-know-about-gestational-diabetes

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