Gestational diabetes refers to a diabetes diagnosis given during pregnancy. It's not considered gestational diabetes if you had diabetes before pregnancy. Gestational diabetes affects your body’s ability to use sugar, leading to high blood sugar. It may negatively affect your health or your baby’s health, so it's important to choose healthy snacks.
You can control your gestational diabetes by maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly. If necessary, your doctor may prescribe medication to help manage your blood sugar levels.
Risks. If left untreated, gestational diabetes may lead to a difficult labor or cesarean section delivery. This is why eating healthy snacks throughout the day is important. Risks for your baby include:
- High birth weight – your baby may be bigger than expected
- Preterm birth – Your baby may arrive early as a complication of high blood sugar
- Breathing difficulties – Babies born early may not have fully developed lungs, a condition called respiratory distress syndrome
- Low blood sugar – If your baby’s sugar levels drop too low, they are at risk for seizures
- Obesity and Type 2 diabetes – Later in life, your child is at a greater risk for other health conditions
- Stillbirth – In extreme cases, babies do not survive in the womb as a result of gestational diabetes that goes untreated
After receiving a gestational diabetes diagnosis, you’ll meet with a registered dietician. They calculate the number of carbohydrates you can eat each day and then teach you how to count carbs. Tips for maintaining your blood sugar include:
- Don’t eat too much at one time, distribute your food evenly instead
- Aim for eating three small meals and two or three snacks each day
- Limit starchy foods, but include them consistently at every meal to provide your body with energy
- Drink one cup of milk at a time because it contains carbohydrates and may raise your blood sugar
- Limit fruits, eating one serving at a time
- Don’t skip breakfast because it helps kick start your day
Be wary of foods labeled as “fat-free” or “sugar-free” as they may still have carbohydrates and sugar alcohols like:
- Hydrogenated starch hydrolysate
Your dietician can help you read labels and choose snacks that are healthy options for gestational diabetes.
When it comes to managing gestational diabetes, it’s important to maintain a well-balanced diet. If you’re vegetarian, vegan, or have other diet restrictions, talk to your doctor about your needs.
Generally speaking, your diet should include:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Lean protein and healthy fat in moderation
- Whole grains, like bread, cereal, pasta, and rice, in moderation
- Starchy vegetables, like corn and peas, in moderation
- Refined sugar, like soda, juice, candy, and pastries, in very limited amounts
Carbohydrates. When your body processes carbohydrates, it converts them to sugar. Too much sugar is dangerous for your body with gestational diabetes. Less than half the calories in your diet should come from carbohydrates.
Keep in mind that you can choose from starchy, sugary carbs or whole-grain and high-fiber carbs. After receiving a gestational diabetes diagnosis, it's important to choose healthier carbohydrates and stay away from refined sugar.
Foods that contain simple carbohydrates and may cause a spike in your blood sugar include:
- French fries
- White rice
Serving sizes of each food group. You should eat six servings each day of grains, beans, and starchy vegetables. Examples of a single serving include:
- A slice of whole-grain bread or an English muffin
- 1 ounce of cereal, preferably containing barley or oats
- Half a cup of cooked rice or pasta
You should eat three to five servings each day of other vegetables. Examples of a single serving include:
- A cup of cooked or chopped leafy greens
- Three-fourths of a cup of vegetable juice
- Half a cup of cooked or raw vegetables, like broccoli, carrots, and peppers
You should eat two to four servings each day of fruit. Examples of a single serving include:
- A medium piece of whole fruit, like an apple, banana, or orange
- Half a cup of chopped, frozen, cooked, or canned fruit
- Three-fourths of a cup of fruit juice with no added sugar
Keep in mind that whole fruits and vegetables have more fiber.
You should eat four servings each day of dairy. Examples of a single serving include:
- A cup of milk or yogurt
- 1.5 ounces of natural cheese
- 2 ounces of processed cheese
You should eat two to three servings each day of protein. Examples of a single serving include:
- 2 to 3 ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish
- Half a cup of cooked beans
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons of peanut butter
Limit your intake of sugar and fats.
After Your Baby’s Birth
The doctor may check your baby for signs of distress following your delivery. They may require additional monitoring of vital statistics, including blood sugar.
Your blood sugar will usually return to normal following the delivery of your baby. Keep in mind that if you're diagnosed with gestational diabetes, it puts you at a higher risk for developing Type 2 diabetes in the future.