You wake up one morning and suddenly your life has changed. Those two little blue lines on the pregnancy test mean a baby is on the way. Excitement builds as you start planning for your new addition. But a few months in, at that first glucose screening, you are alarmed. The numbers are too high. Gestational diabetes. Diabetes! The diagnosis blindsides you. How did this happen? What did I do wrong? Questions swirl as panic starts to set in. A million unknowns now overshadow what was supposed to be one of the happiest times of your life.
But take a deep breath, Mamma! This may be unexpected, but you’ve got this. You can manage this well and thrive too. With the right diet, exercise and a little help from your doctor, you can manage your blood sugar and still have a healthy pregnancy. I should know, I’ve walked in those same shoes. Let me share my story of navigating Gestational diabetes and overcoming the ups and downs of this rollercoaster ride. My goal is to show you that you can thrive with this diagnosis, just like I did, and come out the other side with a beautiful, bouncing baby.
Getting Diagnosed With Gestational Diabetes
When I was pregnant with my daughter, I did know that I was at risk of developing gestational diabetes. My grandmother is a doctor and she had been diagnosed with gestational diabetes when she was pregnant with my mother. Diabetes does tend to be genetic. She had also warned me, “Well-meaning people will say, you should “eat for two people now”, but do NOT listen to them. That is unnecessary, as the second person is a tiny foetus as of now. Only listen to your body”.
At 28 weeks or so, my gynaecologist wrote out all the blood tests that needed to be done at that stage, including glucose tests and the HBA1C. That is when I received the diagnosis - gestational diabetes. I was worried, but my doctor assured me it could be managed with the right diet. She did leave me with a few generic sounding diet tips, but back in 2007, the level of awareness around diabetes and the number of health professionals focusing on diabetes coaching was far fewer than today!
So back to my diagnosis, my doctor also gave me a strict target to only add 1 Kg of bodyweight per month of pregnancy. Unfortunately, I was always over that by about 1.5-1.75x, and I had a challenging pregnancy that also limited the amount of movement I could engage in, in the second trimester. So structured exercise was ruled out for me.
I worked a full-time desk job through my pregnancy. I found that managing my roaring appetite was a challenge. The hardest part was resisting cravings and changing lifelong eating habits almost overnight. For instance, that dessert after a meal was the first to go. I also learnt to eat smaller, healthy snacks more frequently.
Though an unexpected diagnosis, managing gestational diabetes taught me my first and real adult lessons about nutrition and health. By following the plan, I avoided complications and risks to my baby. When my daughter was born, she was perfectly healthy. Looking back, the effort to control my blood sugar was worth it for her well-being and mine. My gestational diabetes journey was challenging yet empowering.
Understanding Blood Sugar Spikes and Crashes While Pregnant
The constant hunger pangs was frustrating to say the least, and looking back with much greater awareness, I can see that those “hangry” moments were caused by constant sugar spikes and crashes through the day. Here’s a simple explainer I have attempted about understanding sugar spikes and its long-term impact
Blood sugar spikes happen when you eat too many carbohydrates or sugary foods at once, causing your blood sugar to rise rapidly. For me, eating poha, upma or sabu dana khichdi often leads to high blood sugar an hour later. I learned to avoid these spikes by eating regularly spaced-out small meals and snacks, with a good balance of proteins and good fats as well.
Avoiding the Crash
What goes up must come down, and after a blood sugar spike comes an inevitable crash. The crash happens when your body releases too much insulin to compensate, dropping your blood sugar levels too low. I frequently felt shaky, irritable and most “hangry” when my blood sugar crashed, which impacted my mood and productivity.
To prevent crashes, I made sure to have a snack with me at all times, especially in the afternoon when my blood sugar tended to drop. Almonds, Apple, Peanut Butter, Dates, small squares of cheese or paneer were lifesavers. Eating every 2 hours was key. Staying hydrated and walking after meals also helped stabilize my levels. While continuous glucose monitors were not available back in 2007, I’d recommend getting one if you are pregnant today with gestational diabetes and have the financial means to support it.
While gestational diabetes can be difficult to manage, understanding the relationship between what you eat and your blood sugar levels is empowering. With patience and the right self-care, you can avoid unwanted spikes and crashes, feel your best, and have a healthy pregnancy. My baby and I are living proof!
My Struggle With Food Cravings and False Appetite
When I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes, one of the hardest parts was managing my intense food cravings and feelings of intense hunger. Even after eating a full meal, I would feel ravenous just an hour later. I had to learn that these “hunger pangs” were often false alarms and my body wasn’t really needing more food.
To combat these cravings, I found drinking a glass of water or herbal tea could help relieve the empty feeling in my stomach. Staying hydrated also helped reduce my appetite and made me feel more satisfied with smaller portion sizes. When a craving struck, I’d walk around the cubicles in my office space, which provided a distraction.
I worked in Human Resources back in 2007, and often had to be present at the organisation’s training sessions at least once every two weeks. These training sessions inevitably had a buffet spread for lunch, which meant a delectable dessert spread too. To manage my gestational diabetes, I said a hard NO and went cold turkey on the buffet dessert, a practice that I stick to, to this day!
It was difficult at first, but over time I got better at listening to my body’s actual hunger cues. I learned the difference between real actual hunger, emotional hunger, and habitual hunger. Emotional and habitual cravings were often related to my mood or a desire for comfort food.
Managing gestational diabetes is challenging, but by understanding the underlying causes of cravings and false hunger, I was able to gain more control over my appetite and diet. Over time, the intensity of cravings did subside, leaving me feeling empowered in my ability to properly nourish myself and my baby.
The Diet Changes That Helped Me Manage My Blood Sugar
The biggest changes I made to manage my gestational diabetes were to my diet. I did not have the access to a dietitian, so I learnt on my own and Google was my friend. These are practices I continue to follow today
Switch up the carb-protein-vegetables ratio
I am a vegetarian, so I depend on plant sources for protein. I made roti or rice the smallest part of my meal, with 2 cups of dal and 2 cups of vegetables. The protein and fibre used to fill me up and slow down digestion and those hangry sugar crashes became less intense over time.
Add more non-starchy veggies, fruits and lean proteins
The number of times that my mother made me eat my greens as a child, came of use here. I added a serving of greens at most meals. From not being much of a fruit eater until that point in life, I taught myself how to enjoy fruits, along with some paneer or cheese cubes, for protein to balance out the natural sugars. These balanced plates kept me full for hours and provided nutrients to support my baby’s growth.
Watch your portions and eat regularly
I experienced “heartburn” in the last trimester of pregnancy, so I made a habit of eating half portion sizes of my meal. I ate the other half 90-120 minutes later. I discovered entirely accidentally that this technique also helped pause the weight gain. I was getting the same amount of nutrition with no compromise, and it was easier on my body as well!
Avoiding Sugary Foods entirely
Since sugar is 100% empty calories and since it has a very high ability to impact your blood sugar spike, I went cold turkey and completely avoided it. I coached myself to drink tea and coffee without sugar, dropped the post-meal dessert habit and learnt to avoid the buffet dessert section completely.
The rationale is that post a large meal, there is no more room for sugar to be processed by your body for energy, it is more likely for sugar to straightaway get stored away as fat after a heavy meal.
I built sugar avoidance habits during my time with gestational diabetes, that I practice even today, as I am aware that I am highly prone to developing Type 2 Diabetes if I am not careful with my lifestyle and diet choices.
Choose healthier fats and less salt
I also cut back on highly processed foods loaded with sodium like chips and namkeens. Too much salt causes fluid retention which can raise blood sugar.
Making these changes to my diet gave me a sense of control over my gestational diabetes. While it wasn’t always easy, eating in a balanced, nutritious way helped me manage my blood sugar and have a healthy pregnancy. Focusing on high-fibre carbs, lean proteins, lots of veggies and watching portions worked for me – and the rewards of a healthy baby made all the effort worthwhile!
Tips for Pregnant Women With Gestational Diabetes
As a pregnant woman with gestational diabetes, the tips below can help you manage your blood sugar and have a healthy pregnancy:
Eat small meals and snacks throughout the day.
Don't go longer than 3-4 hours without eating. Spreading your food out over the day prevents blood sugar spikes and crashes. Have a snack like no-added-sugar granola and fruit, apple and peanut butter, or hummus and veggie sticks. At Artinci, we make a range of zero sugar desserts, made with nutrient-dense ingredients like almond flour, millets, seeds and nuts and with a plant-based sweetener. Perfect for sweet cravings, with no sugar spikes!
Follow a healthy eating plan.
Typically, this means eating moderate portions of lean proteins, high-fibre whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. Limit or avoid sweets, refined carbs and sugary drinks. Choose complex carbs with fibre like brown rice, millets, beans and dals which don't cause blood sugar spikes.
Stay physically active with your doctor's OK.
Exercise helps your insulin work better and lowers blood sugar levels. Even light activity like walking, swimming or prenatal yoga can help. Aim for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. But don't overdo it, especially in the third trimester.
Check your blood sugar frequently and adjust as needed.
Your doctor will recommend how often to check your blood sugar. Make adjustments to your diet, exercise and medication based on the results and your doctor's recommendations. The goal is to keep blood sugar in a healthy range.
Ask about medication if diet and exercise aren't enough.
Oral medications or insulin injections may be needed to lower high blood sugar. Don't feel guilty if medication becomes necessary - the most important thing is controlling your blood sugar to have a healthy baby.
While gestational diabetes can be challenging, following these tips can help you feel in control and enjoy your pregnancy. Ask your doctor or diabetes educator if you have any other questions or concerns about managing your condition.
So there you have it. Gestational diabetes isn't easy, but with the right mindset and tools, you can keep your blood sugar in check and have a healthy pregnancy. Stay positive, focus on the big picture, and remember - this too shall pass. Keep testing your blood sugar, make good food choices, stay active and get enough rest. Learn from both your good days and not-so-good days. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns or need help making adjustments. Most of all, take care of yourself mentally and physically. You've got this, Mamma! Stay strong and keep your eye on the prize - your beautiful baby. Before you know it, you'll be holding that little bundle of joy in your arms. The struggles of gestational diabetes will seem like a distant memory. You can do this!
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