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Learn how I used nutrition and exercise to control Gestational Diabetes

Gestational Diabetes is diabetes that is diagnosed for the first time during pregnancy. It is the body’s reaction to the hormonal changes. Like other types of diabetes, it affects how your cells use sugar, causing high blood sugar. If not managed properly, it can cause health issues for the mother and baby. How scary and awful is that to hear?

From experience, I can tell you it is more than scary. When I was diagnosed with Gestational Diabetes (GD), I was terrified, shocked and felt an incredible amount of guilt. I was embarrassed and questioned what I had done to cause my body to fail me. So many of my friends were pregnant at the same time as I was, but I was the only one who had this diagnosis. In the beginning, it made me feel really alone. However, nearly 10% of pregnancies in the U.S. are affected by GD, according to the American Diabetes Association, so I wasn’t alone and either are you!

I found strength and power in learning about GD and then doing my best to control my blood sugar with a healthy diet and exercise.

Diagnosis

 I never had any issues related to my blood sugar prior to being pregnant, and never thought I would “fail” the dreaded glucose test taken during the 2nd trimester. When my OB/GYN called and told me that I had Gestational Diabetes I was inconsolable. She told me I would have to see a nutritionist right away to be put on a restrictive diet, would have to prick my finger at least 4 times per day to check my blood sugar for the rest of my pregnancy, should start exercising daily but at least 4 times per week (really?! During my 3rd trimester?) – and if these things did not help, I would have to go on insulin.

At that moment, all of the dessert, sugar, carbs, and skipped workouts seemed to suffocate me with guilt. How had I already failed at being a good mom? My husband let me have a pity party for a total of 3 seconds before we created a plan to move forward. The things I ate or did in the first half of my pregnancy didn’t cause GD, but now it was up to me to control it. From that moment on I was stricter with my diet than I was right before my wedding. I exercised regularly and safely. And (spoiler alert) I did not have to go on any type of medication for the duration of my pregnancy, and Charlie was born perfect healthy.

There is a lot you can do with diet and exercise, but unfortunately, as a GD pregnancy progresses the body’s response can be out of your hands. Contrary to how I initially felt, this obviously does not say anything about how you are or will be as a parent. Just the fact that you will overcome this health scare will make you a stronger person than you were.

If you have been diagnosed with GD, I’m not here to give you medical advice. We have really smart doctors for that. This article is to give you some recipes and tips that worked for me during my pregnancy, let you know what to expect at the hospital, and remind you that you aren’t alone.

Tips

  • Your doctor will most likely tell you this, but write down everything you are eating along with your blood sugar results after each test. This way when you see your blood sugar spike after a meal you will be able to see trends. For example, I used this method to come to the conclusion that I wasn’t able to eat more than half a serving of fruit at a time, and when I did it had to be paired with a fat like peanut butter or cheese.
  • I looked for Keto recipes and snacks. They are typically high in fat and low in sugar, and since the Keto diet is particularly trendy, there are lots of good options. I loved these Fat Snax cookies, but only ate 1 at a time.
  • Exercise was key for me. At a certain point my fasted blood sugar was rising and my nutritionist told me try to incorporate some movement right before bed, even just for 15 minutes. See my mini workout ideas in the fitness section below.
  • I experimented with my diet and timing of meals (under the supervision of your nutritionist and doctor). As I mentioned above, at a certain point my fasting blood sugar levels were increasing, which really sucks because you are limited to how much you can manage this. My nutritionist told me to eat a small snack right before bed such as some nuts or a cheese stick (she didn’t have to tell me twice!). This did the trick! We were able to figure this out because I had been keeping vigorous notes of my meals, times and levels.

Nutrition
Like I said, I don’t know all the science behind who gets GD and why some women’s bodies respond differently to pregnancy. However, I had some great consultations with a nutritionist and she gave me a bunch of good ideas for recipes and snacks. I went heavy on the fats, proteins and veggies and light on the fruits and simple carbohydrates, and completely eliminated processes sugar.  Once I found the things that kept my blood sugar stable, I sort of just stuck with it foregoing much variety. Here were a few of my go-to meals:

  • 0% or 2%  plain Greek yogurt, cashews, pecans, about 10 pomegranate seeds (high in natural sugar), unsweetened peanut butter, cinnamon
  • 0% or 2% plain Greek yogurt, 1/3 apple, unsweetened mixed nut butter, almonds, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon
  • 1 piece of Ezekiel bread toasted with avocado, hard boiled egg, tomato, EVOO drizzled on top with Trader Joe’s everything bagel seasoning
  • 1 Trader Joe’s meatless breakfast sausage, spinach and avocado omelet, sliced tomato on the side
  • Stir fry with ¼ cup quinoa, chicken, spinach, broccoli, mushrooms, feta, lots of EVOO, garlic
  • Roasted Eggplant Parm – I used this recipe completely omitting the bread crumbs
  • Dessert: 1 warm Fat Snax cookie, 1/3 apple baked with cinnamon and a drizzle of unsweetened pb

Fitness

  • Personal Training – Immediately after I was diagnosed, I started working out with a personal trainer who specialized in prenatal fitness from Pronatal Fitness. They do classes online or in person. This was a splurge but I knew that I would only be doing it until I had the baby, so I made the decisions to do it.
  • Prenatal Yoga – I also made sure to go to prenatal yoga at least once per week at Prenatal Yoga Center. They also offer classes online. The teachers are amazing and the environment is so lovely. I looked forward to it every week, and even made it a group activity with some of my other pregnant friends. This is something I think every pregnant woman would benefit from.
  • Safe Workouts – I did online classes with Fit Pregnancy Club a few times per week. These classes were challenging, but felt safe because they were designed for pregnant women.
  • 15-Minutes of Movement at night – On days when I didn’t do any of the above I would do a 15-minute mini circuit in my living room right before bed. I would pick any or all of the following and essentially make a fool of myself in front of my husband: 20 Alternating Backwards Lunges, 10 Side Luges – Left, 10 Side Luges – Right,  30 Marching High Knees, Walking Lunges across room, 20 Air Squats, 20 Alternating Bicep Curls, 30 seconds of Jab/Cross Punches

At The Hospital: During and Immediately Following Labor
I made the decision with my OB/GYN to be induced 1 week before my due date if I hadn’t already gone into labor. It is common to be induced a little before your due date if you have GD for 2 reasons:

1. Babies are at risk of being a larger due to the crazy things happening in your body. If you want to read a little more about that, there is an easy to read/understand article on the American Diabetes Associate site.

2. It gets harder and harder to control your blood sugar with only diet and exercise the longer you are pregnant.

Many doctors will choose to go this route, so it may be a conversation you want to bring up with your doctor at some point.

Blood sugar tests: During my time at the hospital and throughout labor, I had my blood sugar tested every 3-4 hours. Ironically, your blood sugar is at risk of dropping during labor (rather than spiking). I was very happy to hear this, and immediately indulged in some deliciously sweet Gatorade.  

Once the baby is born: Two things happened when the baby was born (after you get to hold him or her, of course!):

1. The nurse pricked his heel to check his blood sugar, and continued to do this every 4 hours for the first 24 hours to make sure everything was looking good. (I’m pretty sure babies don’t really feel this – mine did not cry once from this). If he happened to get 3 irregular readings in a row – they would have taken him to the NICU to observe him. Since nothing looked out of the ordinary, the tests stopped after 24-hours.  

2. The nurse asked my husband if he would feed the baby formula right away. This was to control his blood sugar, since breastfeeding can be challenging at first. Since I wanted to avoid my LO being sent to the NICU, I allowed this, but it would have been nice to know this was going to happen in advance. I was honestly too exhausted from the 3 hours of pushing followed by a c-section to comprehend what was happening and even think to put up an argument, but it worked out for the best. It is also important to note that this did not cause my baby to have nipple confusion or anything like that. I successfully breastfed for 6 months. The first 2 months I supplemented with formula. The last 4 months I exclusively BF.

Diabetes Following Delivery
I have good news and bad news. The good news is that once you have the baby, you no longer have Gestational Diabetes by definition. Blood sugar usually returns to normal after delivery. The bad news is that if you have had GD, you are at higher risk of getting type 2 diabetes, so you should monitor changes in your blood sugar more often, according to the American Diabetes Association. Your OB/GYN will likely have you come in for a blood test a few weeks after the delivery to rule out type 2 diabetes.

Although this was a scary and pretty devastating health scare at the time, it is now just part of my story. I can see now that I was the best Mama even before Charlie was born by being so vigilant with my diet, exercise and positivity. Everything I did and did not put into my body was to benefit him and by the end of my pregnancy I was nothing but proud of how well I cared for him while he was in my belly.

Feel free to leave an encouraging comment below for any other moms in our Manhattan Mama community going though this. I also welcome any private messages, questions, or comments using the contact page or Instagram.

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2 Comments

  • Josh
    July 24, 2020 at 10:31 pm

    You’re incredible!

    Reply
    • sarah
      July 27, 2020 at 1:35 am

      Thank you!! <3

      Reply

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