Part of any pregnancy journey is the “orange drink test,” or a screening for gestational diabetes. This regular part of prenatal care usually happens sometime between the 24th and 28th weeks of pregnancy, but what happens if you fail and are diagnosed with gestational diabetes?
Carmen Alexis Miller, MS, RDN, LDN, outpatient dietitian at Our Lady of Lourdes Women’s & Children’s Hospital, shares some advice for managing gestational diabetes with your diet.
Enjoy Real Foods
Eating well is important for all pregnancies, and women with gestational diabetes must be even more mindful of their food intake. Eating a balanced, healthy diet full of real foods can help manage gestational diabetes.
“I tell my patients, ‘No naked carbs,’” Miller says. Linking protein and healthy fats with the carbohydrates will help reduce blood sugar spikes and crashes.
Specifically, Miller recommends a gestational diabetes diet of low to moderate carbohydrates with an emphasis on ample protein and healthy fat intake. It’s important to remember that lower carbohydrate does not mean lower calorie, and all expecting moms should nourish their bodies as they’re growing another one.
Regular exercise is important for all bodies, and especially pregnant bodies. Physical activity lowers blood glucose levels, and moderate intensity aerobic and resistance exercise at least three times per week will also help you manage gestational diabetes.
Managing Gestational Diabetes Matters
Mom’s health during pregnancy impacts her baby’s health, and studies show that unmanaged gestational diabetes can lead to babies born with high insulin levels; macrosomia, which means excessive birth weight; and higher risk of congenital heart defects.
“Mom’s blood sugars can affect the pregnancy and the baby,” Miller says. “A lot of times gestational diabetes will have implications on the baby that can be carried throughout that baby’s life.” Those implications include an elevated risk of higher body weight and metabolic problems such as diabetes and heart disease.
When Diet and Exercise Aren’t Enough
All patients with gestational diabetes will closely monitor their blood sugar levels. Your provider, whether an obstetrician or midwife, can help you manage gestational diabetes in other ways if needed, including insulin.
Once your baby is born, your gestational diabetes will resolve, although you’re at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Continue to make healthy choices during your fourth trimester and beyond.
Miller recommends Real Food for Gestational Diabetes by Lily Nichols, RDN, CDE, as a resource for managing gestational diabetes with diet. Working with a registered dietitian like Miller to develop a customized nutrition plan is a great way to get started. Your prenatal provider will be able to refer you, and if you need a provider, you can find one here.