It is common that women who are not diagnosed with diabetes previously have shown high blood glucose level (hyperglycemia) during pregnancy. This type of diabetes is known as gestational diabetes. It is estimated to affect about 3-8% of pregnant women worldwide and is usually seen in the second half of pregnancy; however, blood glucose levels become normal after the baby is born. In case the symptoms of diabetes persist after giving birth, then the condition is called chronic diabetes, which can be either Type 1 diabetes or Type 2 diabetes.
Gestational diabetes is caused due to the hormonal changes that take place in all women during pregnancy. It is similar to Type 2 diabetes in which the body cells become resistant to the insulin hormone. Insulin induces the body cells to take up glucose from the blood for using it as a source of energy. Due to the problems of body's cells that respond to insulin, glucose remains in the blood and hence results in hyperglycemia. Symptoms of pregnancy diabetes are polydipsia (increased thirst), polyuria (increased urination frequency), and fatigue.
Gestational diabetes doesn't pose an immediate threat to the health of the pregnant woman. However, it should be controlled as it increases the risks of certain complications such as premature labor, secretion of excess amniotic fluid, and preeclampsia (hypertension and presence of protein in urine). In addition to these conditions, untreated diabetes can cause jaundice, breathing problems, as well as hypoglycemia in the baby.
- Gestational diabetes can be managed well with proper diet, regular exercise, and routine monitoring of blood glucose levels. Blood glucose levels that are less than 105 mg per dL (fasting) and less than 120 mg per dL (2 hours after meal) are considered to be normal. Let's look into some of the useful diets that help in controlling high blood glucose levels during pregnancy.
- Carbohydrates are the main source of glucose. Eat foods that contain adequate amounts of carbohydrates and maintain the same amount of carbohydrates that you consume in each meal. Some of the healthy carbohydrate diets are pasta, whole-grain bread, bagel, rice, oatmeal, and pancakes. Vegetables contain fewer amounts of carbohydrates (about 5 grams per serving); accordingly, one can plan the carbohydrate intake while including vegetables in the diet plan.
- Along with carbohydrate intake, the diet should be supplemented with protein-rich foods and sufficient amount of fats. During pregnancy, an extra amount of proteins (about 12 grams) is required for the proper development of the fetus. Overall, the calorie intake should be such that about 45-60% should come from carbohydrates, 15-25% from proteins, and 25-30% from fats.
- Add fiber-rich foods to the diet such as fruits, fresh vegetables, and bran cereals. Fiber slows down the digestion of carbohydrates that helps in controlling the blood sugar levels. It also helps in maintaining regular bowel movements.
- It is advisable to consume four servings of dairy products and calcium-rich products such as milk, nuts, vegetables, and other calcium fortified foods. Also, one should include foods rich in iron (fish, eggs and vegetables), vitamin A (pumpkin, carrot and spinach), vitamin C (tomato, oranges and strawberries) and folic acid (beans, lentils and almonds) in the daily diet, so as to get adequate nourishment during pregnancy.
- Drinking eight glasses of water per day is recommended to maintain a proper fluid balance in the body.
- Always include ample amounts of fruits and vegetables in the diet plan.
- Consuming three meals and two to three snacks a day at regular intervals is beneficial. Try to eat meals at the same time everyday and don't skip meals or snacks. This helps in maintaining the blood sugar level within the normal range. While consuming packaged food, one should always check the nutritional levels.
- Avoid foods and drinks that have high sugar content such as corn syrup, molasses, jams and jellies. Alcoholic beverages should be strictly avoided as alcohol consumption can lead to premature birth and low weight of the baby at birth.
Women who are obese, older than 25 years at the time of pregnancy and those who have a family history of diabetes should be more careful while planning for pregnancy. It is advisable to seek advice from a dietitian for proper planning of the meals. Consult your physician in case the blood sugar levels remain high even after following the recommended diets and exercise. In such cases, the physician may recommend insulin injections.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.