What is Gestational Diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is diabetes that develops, or is first diagnosed, during pregnancy. You can think of it as “insulin resistance” or “carbohydrate intolerance” during pregnancy as a way to understand it better. Basically, it means that a woman cannot tolerate large amounts of carbohydrates without causing her blood sugar levels to rise.

Can gestational diabetes be prevented?

You don’t have to have a history of glucose intolerance or insulin resistance to be at risk of developing gestational diabetes.

Research has shown that adopting healthy practices such as not smoking, regular exercise (150 minutes or more per week) and a healthy diet can reduce the risk of gestational diabetes by 41%.

The impact of high blood sugar during pregnancy

High blood sugar can cause various complications in the baby such as macrosomia (large baby), which increases the chance of a caesarean due to an increased chance of an obstructed labour. It also causes an increase in shoulder dystocia, which is where the shoulders get stuck during vaginal delivery, with possible nerve damage to the baby. 

It can also result in hypoglycaemia (low sugar levels) after delivery and permanent changes to a child’s metabolism.

Changes to the baby’s metabolism can cause issues later in life. Exposure to high blood sugar causes the foetal pancreas to produce excessive amounts of insulin to maintain normal blood sugar levels. As a consequence, fat accumulates around the midsection and the foetal pancreas is subjected to hyperplasia (enlargement of the organ). 

Babies exposed to gestational diabetes in the womb have a greater risk of becoming overweight and developing type 2 diabetes later in life.

How to manage gestational diabetes

The primary treatment for gestational diabetes is diet and exercise. For those who are unable to control their blood sugar levels by nutritional therapy, insulin or medication may be required.

Another important management measure is to test your blood sugar levels throughout the day. This is to ensure your levels are being maintained. Before eating in the morning, and then two hours after breakfast, lunch and dinner are the recommended times to check your levels to get effective readings.

Managing your diet

Recommendations will differ based on individual blood sugar control however, less than 175g of carbs per day is beneficial.

Fats and proteins tend to stabilise your blood sugar levels. Meats, poultry, eggs, full-fat cheese, nuts, seeds and avocados.

Be mindful of your sugar intake and avoid juice, soft drinks, desserts, honey and dried fruit.

Avoid refined carbohydrates such as cereal and pasta.

Spread your carbohydrate intake throughout the day to avoid spiking your blood sugar levels. This helps to maintain your levels.

The good thing to remember is that once the baby has been born, the mother’s blood glucose levels usually return to normal.