What It Means When You Have Gestational Diabetes

What It Means When You Have Gestational Diabetes
Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Lark Health

Congratulations on your pregnancy! It is a special time of life, with wonderful hopes and dreams for the future! 

If you go to a routine prenatal appointment and your doctor says you have gestational diabetes, what does that mean for you and your baby? What special changes do you need to make while pregnant, and what happens afterwards? This is what it means when you have gestational diabetes.

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What Is Gestational Diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is higher-than-normal blood sugar that develops during pregnancy. It usually develops between 24 and 28 weeks, but can happen sooner. It is unlikely to cause symptoms.

Many women get tested for gestational diabetes between weeks 24 and 28 of pregnancy. The test involves drinking a sugary solution and getting blood sugar tested an hour later. If the value comes back high, you may get a second sugar-drinking test, this time with a greater amount of sugar and blood tests over a few hours, to confirm a diagnosis of gestational diabetes.

Your doctor may recommend testing you as early as your first prenatal visit if you are high risk for gestational diabetes. Risk factors include being overweight or obese before getting pregnant and having a close family member with diabetes.

Effects of Gestational Diabetes

Having gestational diabetes puts you at higher risk for developing diabetes later in life. Not every woman with gestational diabetes develops diabetes, but about half eventually do.

Gestational diabetes can also pose risks to your baby. If your blood sugar is not controlled during pregnancy, risks for the baby include:

  • Higher risk for developing diabetes later in life.
  • High birth weight. 
  • Shoulders getting stuck in the birth canal.
  • Low blood sugar.

Diet and Exercise During Gestational Diabetes

A healthy amount of weight gain, choosing healthy foods, and staying active when you have gestational diabetes can help manage blood sugar.

Appropriate Weight Gain

Gaining more than the recommended amount of weight during pregnancy can make it more difficult to control blood sugar. If your weight was in the normal range before pregnancy, the recommended amount of weight gain is 25-35 lb. If you were overweight or obese before you got pregnant, the recommended amount of weight gain is 15-25 lb.

The “eating for two” mindset can lead to excessive weight gain and higher blood sugar. In reality, you only need about 200 to 300 extra calories per day compared to before pregnancy. Plus, if you were more active before pregnancy, you need even fewer extra calories.

Having 4 to 6 small meals or snacks per day can help you get the calories need without leading to excessive weight gain. A focus on nutrient-dense foods can help you get vitamins, minerals, protein, and other nutrients to keep you and your baby healthy (along with a prenatal vitamin if your provider recommends one). 

Food Choices

The same healthy foods that your healthcare provider may have recommended before pregnancy and before being diagnosed with gestational diabetes are good choices when you have gestational diabetes. These foods include the following.

  • Fruits and vegetables.
  • Lean proteins, such as low-mercury fish, beans, low-fat yogurt and cheese, and chicken.
  • Whole grains, such as whole-wheat bread and pasta, brown rice, oatmeal, and whole-grain cereals.
  • Healthy fats, such as nuts, seeds, olive oil, and avocados.

Exercise with Gestational Diabetes

It can be tougher to exercise during pregnancy due to fatigue or a changing body, but it is a good idea to be physically active to lower blood sugar. If your healthcare provider agrees that it is safe to do so, walking, cycling, and most other activities that feel comfortable can help. 

Horseback riding and contact sports are not recommended during pregnancy. For safety, you may need to check blood sugar before, during, and after exercising.

Using Insulin During Gestational Diabetes

Your doctor may prescribe insulin injections during gestational diabetes to help manage blood sugar. Your doctor may suggest that you eat at regular intervals and base your insulin timing and dose around meal times and amount of carbohydrate. Your prenatal appointments may become more frequent, and your doctor may have you monitor your blood sugar at home.

After Gestational Diabetes

What happens after giving birth? Does gestational diabetes just go away? Well, sort of, sometimes. In most cases, you will not need insulin anymore. Blood sugar levels often go down to normal levels or levels that are seen in prediabetes; that is, they are higher than normal, but not as high as in diabetes. 

Someone who is overweight or obese and had gestational diabetes is still considered to be high-risk for developing diabetes. If you have normal blood sugar levels or have prediabetes, you may be eligible for Lark Diabetes Prevention Program. If you have diabetes, you may be able to join Lark for Diabetes. 

Lark DPP and Lark for Diabetes can help with weight loss, healthy eating, physical activity, and more lifestyle changes. If you are using Lark for Diabetes, your coach can also help you with managing medications and monitoring blood sugar levels. Lark is available 24/7 on your smartphone.

After giving birth, losing weight gained during pregnancy, and more if you were overweight or obese to start, can help blood sugar levels go back down. Lark can help you lose weight through establishing habits that can fit into your lifestyle. These are examples of simple changes to lose weight.

  • Getting sauce on the side when you order at a restaurant.
  • Switching to skim milk instead of whole, or choosing unsweetened almond or soy milk instead of sweetened.
  • Eating vegetables first at the meal.
  • Using smaller plates.

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Lark can also help you with the health meal choices and physical activity goals that can help lower blood sugar.

You want the best for yourself and your baby, so it is important to follow doctor’s orders if you find out that you have gestational diabetes. By taking insulin if prescribed, controlling weight gain, staying active, and eating well, you can help protect yourself and your baby. After you deliver your bundle of joy, Lark can help you focus on weight loss and maintaining other healthy behaviors to manage blood sugar.