What does having gestational diabetes mean for me and my baby?
Treatment options that will keep you both safe.
In the 3 hours you waited through your gestational diabetes test, you’ve replayed every scenario in your head. What if I have gestational diabetes? Is my baby in danger? How does this alter my life? You hope for the best but fear for the worst. And when your results come back, you’ve been diagnosed with gestational diabetes. Gestational diabetes may put a little wrench in your pregnancy plan. But instead of worrying, let’s focus your energy on managing it. Trust me - you can handle it.
What does this mean for me and my baby?
If you have gestational diabetes, it means your glucose levels are too high. Only pregnant women can get gestational diabetes. And roughly 1 in 20 women do get it during their pregnancy. When you are pregnant, your baby shares your bloodstream. So, if the glucose levels in your bloodstream are a little too high, then your baby’s glucose levels are also high. In order to counteract these high glucose levels, your baby’s developing pancreas will work harder to produce more insulin to even things out. This means your baby is getting more calories than they need. And it means they will grow bigger than normal. This could lead to a C-section, traumatic birth or early delivery. After your baby is born and begins using their own bloodstream, rather than depending on yours, the doctor will test your baby’s blood sugar to make sure everything is okay.
Gestational diabetes treatment
Take comfort in knowing gestational diabetes is treatable. Diabetes educators like me are here to help you with the following treatments:
- Making changes to how you eat. Good news - most women can manage their gestational diabetes by simply changing their food choices and portion sizes. Bad news – you’re going to have to put away (or significantly reduce) the cookies and ice cream for a while. A dietitian nutritionist will immediately begin working with you to develop a food plan that is nice to your pancreas so it doesn’t have to work so hard to make insulin. This will include eating healthy foods and drinks in six small meals throughout the day.
- Testing your blood sugar. In addition to your new diet, you’ll also have to monitor your own blood sugar. You’ll be given a glucose meter and finger stick. First thing in the morning and after your three largest meals, you’ll use the finger stick and place a drop of blood into the glucose meter to test your blood sugar. You’ll continue visiting your diabetes educator to monitor your results.
- Giving yourself additional insulin. If your body doesn’t respond to your new eating pattern, then you will need additional insulin. You’ll be given an insulin pen with small, thin needles. One to two times per day, you’ll give yourself a dose of insulin. I know right now you are hesitant, but I promise it doesn’t hurt!
- Doing periodic testing after delivery. Because you have gestational diabetes, you have a 50 percent chance of getting type 2 diabetes later in your life. But, developing type 2 diabetes can be prevented by losing weight and daily physical activity. Your doctor will keep monitoring you. You’ll be tested for diabetes 6-8 weeks after you’ve delivered your baby, again in one year and then every three years. If you don’t get diabetes within 10 years, your chances of getting the disease are very low.
Being diagnosed with gestational diabetes is difficult news to hear. But, it’s treatable and your health care team is ready to provide support to get you through this. It may even be the kick start you need to make lifestyle changes to keep you and your family healthy.
About Diane Reader, RDN, CDE
Diane Reader is a registered dietitian nutritionist and certified diabetes educator. She has been manager of diabetes professional training programs at the International Diabetes Center, which is part of HealthPartners Institute, since 2000. And she is nationally known for her work in gestational diabetes. Reader has served on the board of directors of the American Diabetes Association and was chair of the Education Recognition Program committee. A career highlight was to work with General Mills to develop the Betty Crocker Diabetes Cookbooks. Diane especially enjoys working with pregnant women because they are motivated to do what is best for their babies, even when it’s hard to make lifestyle changes. In her free time, she and her husband love to pedal their bikes on trails all over Minnesota.