Lifestyle changes with gestational diabetes
Pregnancy itself is all it takes to make some major changes to most new moms’ lifestyles, from the involuntary ones, like changes in what types of clothing are comfortable, and alterations to regular exercise routines, to the voluntary but equally huge ones, like letting go of alcohol and caffeine for the course of pregnancy. For new moms-to-be who are diagnosed with gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM), though, there are a few extra lifestyle changes that are needed to help ensure they have safe, healthy pregnancies.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, 2 to 10% of pregnant women in the US are diagnosed with gestational diabetes. Luckily, many of the lifestyle changes pregnant women with GDM are encouraged to make are mostly in line with pretty ordinary recommendations for healthy diet and exercise patterns during pregnancy.
Since physical activity helps keep the blood glucose level low, keeping active can be an important part of a healthy pregnancy with gestational diabetes. Just like any type of exercise during pregnancy, it’s a good idea to avoid contact sports, or any activity that carries a high risk of taking a fall, and it’s a good idea to check in with your healthcare provider before starting a new kind of exercise.
There’s a good chance your healthcare provider will recommend the fairly standard 30 minutes of exercise a day, or most days.
Keeping active is important because it lowers blood glucose levels, but it’s also something to be careful about. The Cleveland Clinic recommends eating either a serving of fruit or an equivalent snack including 15 grams of carbohydrate either just before exercising, if you haven’t eaten in a couple of hours, or just after exercising, if you had a meal shortly before exercising. They also recommend carrying glucose tablets or hard candies as a way of raising blood sugar in case of hypoglycemia.
Again, many of the parts of a healthy diet with gestational diabetes aren’t that different from a healthy diet during pregnancy without gestational diabetes. This means, in fact, not officially dieting at all, but rather taking care to follow a healthy pattern of meals as discussed with your healthcare provider or dietician.
A healthcare provider or dietician discussing meal patterns with gestational diabetes will probably recommend having more, smaller meals at regular intervals. For example, the American Diabetes Association recommends three small meals and two snacks, all of which are important not to miss or have later than usual. This is a pretty general template, though, and your healthcare provider may recommend differences based on your unique pregnancy’s needs.
Other tips for a healthy diet during gestational diabetes include sticking to high-fiber grains, vegetables, and other carbohydrates, avoiding extra sugars and fats, and making sure to get a full 8 glasses of water a day. The Cleveland Clinic suggests having slightly fewer carbohydrates, like grains, at breakfast than during the other meals of the day, since insulin resistance is highest first thing in the morning. For the rest of the day, they recommend that carbohydrates should be evenly spaced out.
Stay on top of things
One of the biggest lifestyle changes during pregnancy, and one of the hardest ones to pin down, is an increased awareness of your health. When you’ve been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, that awareness takes on a few new dimensions.
- Monitor blood sugar levels: The best way to make sure blood sugar levels stay on track during a pregnancy affected by gestational diabetes is by keeping a close eye on them. Your healthcare provider will talk to you about when and how to test your blood sugar levels. The American Diabetes Association recommends testing blood sugar levels during pregnancy before each meal, and then again 1 and 2 hours after each meal, but your healthcare provider may recommend something different based on your health – for example, you might be advised to test your blood sugar level first thing in the morning, as well.
- Monitor weight gain: Keeping an eye on the rate of weight gain during pregnancy can help you be sure that it’s happening at the right speed and in the right amount for your unique pregnancy, as discussed with your healthcare provider.
- Take your medicine: If your healthcare provider prescribes medication or doses of insulin during pregnancy, it’s important to follow the dosing, schedule, and instructions your provider recommends.
- Write it down: Many women find that keeping a written record of what they eat, how and when they exercise, and their blood sugar levels can help them figure out the right pattern of food and activity that works for their bodies during this time.
If you have questions about management of gestational diabetes, your healthcare provider is a great resource.
Keep an eye out for hypoglycemia
Hypoglycemia, a physical reaction to a low blood glucose level, can happen to pregnant women who haven’t eaten enough recently or have missed meals, pregnant women whose eating schedules have changed unexpectedly, and pregnant women who abruptly start exercising more than their bodies are used to. Signs of hypoglycemia include:
- Sudden hunger
Signs of hypoglycemia should be addressed right away by checking blood sugar levels if possible. A blood sugar level of less than 60 mg/dl should be considered low, and counteracted by eating a food containing sugar, like juice, skim milk, or hard candy.
- “A Healthy Pregnancy for Women with Diabetes.” ACOG. FAQ176 from American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Dec 2011. Web.
- L Jovanovic, CM Peterson. “Management of the pregnant, insulin-dependent diabetic woman.” Diabetes Care. 3:63. Web. 1980.
- I Blumer, et al. “Diabetes and pregnancy: an endocrine society clinical practice guideline.” J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 98:4227. Web. 2013.
- “Lifestyle Changes to Manage Gestational Diabetes.” WinchesterHospital. Winchester Hospital, 2017. Web.