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Can I have a healthy pregnancy and baby if I have gestational diabetes?




November is Diabetes Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness about the different types of diabetes, including gestational diabetes.


If you’ve been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, you may be feeling worried about how it will affect your pregnancy and your baby. It might be reassuring for you to know that gestational diabetes is a fairly common condition, and with careful monitoring and treatment, it can be managed, and you can have a safe pregnancy and a healthy baby.


Here’s what you need to know to help keep you and your baby healthy if you’ve been diagnosed.


What is gestational diabetes?


Gestational diabetes is a form of diabetes that can develop during pregnancy where there’s too much sugar in your blood, and in most cases, it goes away after your baby is born.


The glucose (sugar) in your blood is controlled by a hormone called insulin. During pregnancy, hormonal changes can occur, and it can be difficult for your body to use insulin, this is called insulin resistance. Your insulin needs are also 2-3 times higher in pregnancy than at other times. If your body can’t make enough insulin to meet this increased need and overcome the insulin resistance, your blood glucose levels become too high. If left unmanaged, it can cause problems for you and your baby.


Who does gestational diabetes most affect?


Gestational diabetes is common. It affects at least 1 in 20 pregnant women. Any woman can develop the condition during pregnancy, but you're at an increased risk if:


- You’re overweight or obese.

- You had gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy.

- You had a baby who weighed 4.5kg or more at birth.

- You have a family history of diabetes (a parent or a sibling).

- You have a South Asian, Black, African Caribbean or Middle Eastern background.


What are the symptoms of gestational diabetes?


Many women don’t experience any symptoms, but some symptoms to look out for include:


- Excessive thirst.

- Going to the toilet more often.

- Tiredness and lethargy.

- Blurred eyesight.


Many of these symptoms are like those experienced in pregnancy, but they can also be signs of gestational diabetes.


How do I know if I have gestational diabetes?


Screening tests for gestational diabetes usually occur between 24 and 28 weeks of pregnancy. If you’re at increased risk of gestational diabetes you’ll be offered a test earlier in your pregnancy, which is then repeated later. The screening test is called an oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT). On the day of the test, you’ll have a blood test taken after fasting overnight. You’ll then be asked to drink a very sweet glucose drink and you’ll have another blood test 2 hours after drinking this. The test will look at how your body and insulin are coping with the glucose.


What effects does gestational diabetes have on my pregnancy and my baby?


If poorly controlled, gestational diabetes can cause problems for you and your baby. These include having a big baby, which can make the birth difficult. It can also put you at increased risk of high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia. You could also have an increased risk of developing diabetes in the future. Uncontrolled gestational diabetes could also lead to potential problems for your baby at birth, such as breathing difficulties, low blood sugar levels and jaundice. The good news is that if your blood glucose levels are well controlled during pregnancy then it can reduce the chances of these problems occurring.


How is gestational diabetes treated?


Most women can manage their gestational diabetes with healthy eating, exercise, and regular blood glucose monitoring. You'll also be more closely monitored by your diabetes and antenatal team during your pregnancy and birth to check for any potential problems.


I’ve been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, what changes can I make to my diet before I see my diabetes and antenatal team?


Eating a healthy balanced diet is important for you and your baby. When you have gestational diabetes your dietary choices affect your blood glucose levels.


Here’s my 5 top tips to help control your blood glucose levels:

  • Eat regularly. Have regular meals (usually 3 meals a day). Try not to skip meals.

  • Eat smart carbohydrates. Good options include wholegrain breakfast cereals or oats, wholegrain bread, wholemeal pasta, pulses such as chickpeas, beans and lentils, brown rice or basmati rice. These contain higher amounts of fibre, vitamins, and minerals. They also have a lower glycaemic index (GI). This means they are slow-digesting carbohydrates and raise your glucose level slowly, which can help to control blood glucose levels.

  • Limit sugary foods and drinks including soft drinks, cordials, sweets, chocolates, biscuits and desserts.

  • Limit foods which are high in saturated fat such as fried foods, pastries, crisps, biscuits and cakes.

  • Keep moving. Enjoy being active each day.

If you’ve been recently diagnosed with gestational diabetes, working with a dietitian will help you to make the best nutritional choices for you and your baby.


Book your free 20-minute Discovery Call today and we can discuss ways in which I can optimise your pregnancy health.


References

Diabetes.org.uk. Accessed 23rd November 2023 from: https://www.diabetes.org.uk/diabetes-the-basics/gestational-diabetes


National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) Diabetes in pregnancy: management from preconception to the postnatal period: NICE Guideline (NG3). 2015. Accessed 23rd November 2023 from: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng3/chapter/Recommendations#gestational-diabetes-2


Scottish Intercollegiate Guidelines Network (SIGN) Management of diabetes in pregnancy: from contraception to postnatal period. SIGN Guideline (116, 7). 2017. Accessed 23rd November 2023 from:


Star A, Vandervliet L 2018. Growing Baby Bean: A Complete Guide to Pregnancy Nutrition. Dr Anita Star Nutrition Consultant: Albury, Australia.


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