Gestational diabetes is typically a form a diabetes that occurs during pregnancy. There are a few risk factors that can increase your chance of developing diabetes in pregnancy. In this article I share more insights into what gestational diabetes is, risk factors, how to minimise them, and how to naturally manage your symptoms during gestational diabetes.
What is Gestational Diabetes?
It’s a form of diabetes occurring during pregnancy and usually goes away after the baby is born. It occurs in 3 to 10% of pregnancies with statistics rising in Western countries.
Our bodies work by converting glucose (sugar) from food into energy. Insulin is the hormone that converts the glucose into energy.
During pregnancy, hormones are made by the placenta to support the baby’s growth and development. In some women however, the hormones stop the mother’s insulin from working properly, also known as insulin resistance. As the pregnancy progresses and the baby grows, the mother’s body has to make more insulin to keep her blood glucose at normal levels.
Throughout the pregnancy the amount of insulin required to keep blood glucose levels normal is 2-3 times higher than when not pregnant. When the mother is unable to produce the insulin required to meet the demand, the blood glucose levels rise and gestational diabetes develops.
So essentially the insulin is no longer being produced, or not produced in sufficient amounts. When this occurs the glucose can’t be converted into energy and instead, the glucose stays in the blood resulting in high glucose levels.
Who is at Risk of Gestational Diabetes?
There are a number of known risk factors which increase your chance of developing diabetes in pregnancy. Some of these factors include:
- Family history of type 2 diabetes
- 40 years of age or more
- Excess body fat with waist circumference greater than 88cm
- Sedentary lifestyle,
- High cholesterol and/or blood pressure,
- History of diabetes in a previous pregnancy
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.
Some ethnicities are also more vulnerable to gestational diabetes such as; Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, Pacific Islander, Indian or Chinese descent.
How is Gestational Diabetes Diagnosed?
All pregnant women should be checked for gestational diabetes by taking a special blood test, known as a Glucose Tolerance Test. This test usually occurs between weeks 26 and 28 of the pregnancy.
A glucose solution is provided as a drink. One hour after drinking the solution you’ll have a blood test to measure blood sugar levels.
Women who have one or more of the listed risk factors are advised to have a diabetes test when pregnancy is first confirmed and again between weeks 26 and 28 of pregnancy.
How Will My Baby Be Affected by Gestational Diabetes?
Controlling blood glucose is vital during pregnancy as there can be harmful effects to the baby if it goes undetected or is not controlled.
The baby’s response to the higher glucose levels being produced is to make more insulin, which makes the baby grow larger at a faster rate. If the mother’s blood glucose levels remain high, the baby may become larger than normal. This can lead to problems during and after birth.
When gestational diabetes is not controlled the baby can be affected and may experience:
- Big baby syndrome
- Heart and kidney problems
- Low blood sugar levels
- Enlarged organs
- Respiratory distress
- Mineral deficiencies
- Jaundice as well as more serious effects.
How is Gestational Diabetes Treated?
The medical approach is an insulin injection to control your glucose levels. Alternatively oral anti-diabetic agents such as glyburide and metformin can be prescribed. However, both agents have been shown to cross the placenta to the baby and should be used with caution and patients counselled appropriately.
The natural approach is to make adjustments to your diet and lifestyle for positive outcomes. As a naturopath I review, coach and counsel my patients in regards to their food and lifestyle choices. I also recommend quality supplements to naturally improve the uptake of glucose into the cell, and out of the blood, to prevent the harmful effects of gestational diabetes.
Some of the supplements I work with include:
- Lipoic acid
In addition to the above supplements, specific probiotics have also been shown to regulate glucose metabolism via the immune system.
Managing Gestational Diabetes, Naturally
Here are four tips to help you manage gestational diabetes naturally:
1. Avoid refined carbohydrates
This includes avoiding sugar, sweets, fruit juices, white bread, pasta and potatoes. These foods have a high glycaemic index and are damaging in any amounts for diabetics.
2. Focus on a wholesome diet
Include a diet high in fresh fruit, non-starchy vegetables, essential fatty acids and good fats such as olive oil, eggs, avocado, raw nuts and seeds, as well as lean protein. These provide essential phytonutrients, antioxidants, magnesium and helps to control inflammation in the heart and blood vessels.
3. Stop smoking
This is the highest priority and smoking should be ceased immediately.
4. Regular aerobic exercise
Starting slowly and increasing your fitness has been shown to stimulate non-insulin dependent glucose transport into cells, reducing blood glucose.
“I just wanted to let you know that after changing one meal after seeing you yesterday and a 30 minute walk afterwards, my night time reading was 5.1 and my morning fasting reading was 4.8. Thank you so much these are amazing results so quickly.”
Helane (30 weeks pregnant)
As a naturopath who specialises in fertility, pregnancy and the journey beyond, I support and guide my patients to wellness with natural therapies.