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Gestational Diabetes: What do I need to do now?

What is gestational diabetes?

Your health care provider has just told you that you have gestational diabetes. Now, what? How do you have to change to make sure you can take care of yourself and your baby to avoid any possible complications?

A gestational diabetes diagnosis is given when pregnant women start showing high levels of blood glucose. Gestational diabetes affects about 4% of all pregnant women — about 135,000 cases — in the United States each year. It is still a mystery what causes gestational diabetes. The American Diabetes Association explains that, although not proven, it seems to result from hormonal changes that take place during pregnancy. The placenta supports the baby as it grows, with placental hormones helping the baby develop. But these hormones also block the action of the mother's insulin in her body. This problem is called insulin resistance. Insulin resistance makes it hard for the mother's body to use insulin.

Gestational diabetes starts when your body is not able to make and use all the insulin it needs for pregnancy. Without enough insulin, glucose cannot leave the blood and be converted to energy. Glucose builds up in the blood to high levels. This is called hyperglycemia. Gestational diabetes does not cause the kinds of birth defects sometimes seen in babies whose mothers had diabetes before pregnancy.

However, untreated or poorly controlled gestational diabetes can hurt your baby.

How should I change my diet to control my blood sugar?

Your doctor probably talked to you about how to control your diet. But if you still have questions, seek the help of a dietitian to get guidelines on the best foods for you. You can also use a service like .

can help you create meal plans, personalize them, track what you eat and compare your food intake with your blood sugars.

If you measure your blood sugar 2 hours after eating, you will know how much that specific food or meal raised your sugars. Once you know how much that food raised your sugar, and you know the amount of carbohydrates in that food, it makes it easier to learn how sensitive your body is to the foods you eat. lets you track nutritional impact of thousands of foods, including the ones you eat in fast food restaurants or the ones you cook at home. Knowing how sensitive you are to carbohydrates lets you better select foods with low carbohydrate content and fat. In this way you can better control your sugars.

A good rule of thumb to balance your meals is to eat foods low in carbohydrates and fat. For example if you have pasta, reduce your portion and do not eat bread or potatoes with it. Eat a variety of foods, like fresh fruits and vegetables. Vegetables are what we call free foods, meaning you can eat them with very little effect on your sugars. Same goes for lean-meats. Healthy eating habits can go a long way in preventing diabetes and other health problems.

But remember that balance is the key for controlling your health.

Should I be more active?

No doubt most people should be more active. It is proven that a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise a day helps to reduce risks as well as helping to control your sugars.

Choose an activity you like such as walking, and do it regularly and consistently.

Regular exercise allows your body to use glucose without extra insulin. This helps combat insulin resistance and is what makes exercise helpful to people with diabetes. Never start an exercise program without checking with your doctor first.

Sticking with your treatment during gestational diabetes will increase your chance of a healthy pregnancy and birth, and may help your baby avoid future health problems.

What happens after my baby is born?

It may take sometime for your gestational diabetes to go away, although it usually does. Your doctor and health care team will run some tests to see how you are doing after your baby is born.

Once you've had gestational diabetes, your chances are 2 in 3 that it will return in future pregnancies. Many women who have gestational diabetes go on to develop type 2 diabetes years later. There seems to be a link between the tendency to have gestational diabetes and type 2 diabetes. Gestational diabetes and type 2 diabetes both involve insulin resistance.

So even if the gestational diabetes goes away after the baby's birth, it is important that you continue to exercise, watch your weight and eat a healthy diet. If you do these things, you may avoid the development of type 2 diabetes.

can help you to manage your health at any point in your life. Track what you eat, check your blood sugars regularly, and enjoy a healthy life.

Adapted by Editorial Staff, April, 2005
Last update, July 2008



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