After being approached by a few friends about this, I decided I should have a post dedicated to the topic of gestational diabetes in order to share my personal experience with it and perhaps offer some helpful suggestions to others who may be dealing with this condition. If you are sensitive to pregnancy or delivery topics like this, please feel free to skip this post.
I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes when I was 28 weeks pregnant after failing two routine blood glucose tests. I was completely caught off guard. I’ve never had diabetes nor does it run in my family, so the news hit me pretty hard. Being pregnant with twins already had me on high alert so hearing that I had a form of diabetes was scary. I thought for sure I had put the girls in danger and I was really nervous about how the remainder of my pregnancy would go.
After consulting with my doctor, nurses, and doing my own research, I realized that gestational diabetes is a common and treatable condition. According to a 2014 analysis by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of women with gestational diabetes is as high as 9.2%. And being pregnant with multiples can put you at an even greater risk of developing this condition.
It’s a common misconception that gestational diabetes results from poor eating habits and lack of exercise. While there is no concrete explanation as to why gestational diabetes occurs, research suggests that certain hormones during pregnancy can cause insulin resistance (meaning your body cannot properly make or use insulin). Without adequate amounts of insulin, glucose gets trapped in the blood and starts to build up.
If not properly controlled, this can pose a lot of problems for you and your baby. The extra sugar in your blood can cross the placenta and cause high blood glucose levels for your child and can be very taxing on his or her developing pancreas. My doctors closely monitored the girls’ growth to make sure they weren’t gaining weight too quickly (an indication something may be wrong) and, thankfully, things progressed normally.
After being diagnosed with gestational diabetes I was required to meet with a nutritionist and diabetes specialist who talked with me about proper “diet” habits and how to monitor my blood sugar. Sadly, the dietary guidelines weren’t something I felt comfortable following. For example, I was told to eat low fat or fat free products and only lean proteins. This was frustrating to see since I believe whole full-fat products like avocado, yogurt, cheese, and nuts, are essential, especially for pregnant women. I understand that these items can cause weight gain, thereby making your blood sugar harder to control, however, I personally did not feel this plan was right for me.
Here’s what I did:
I significantly reduced my sugar, cutting out all sweets and processed foods (I had a small piece of cake at my shower!). I reduced my fruit intake and ate mostly berries and fleshy fruit since those do not spike your insulin like other fruits. And I cut way back on my carbohydrates and started to eat meat after being a vegetarian for 15 years. I was asked to share my weekly diet charts with my nutritionist for the first 2 weeks to make sure I was eating adequately. It was a bit tedious to track all of this information, but it provided a helpful snapshot of my eating habits and it made me more confident that I was getting adequate nutrition. But man it was hard at times to stay away from sweets!
The real bummer was checking my blood sugar (i.e., pricking my finger) several times a day (when I first woke up, after every meal, and at the end of the night). It was SUCH an inconvenience at times and I really hated it for awhile. However, I was diligent with tracking my numbers and I was able to keep my glucose levels low to normal for the remainder of my pregnancy. The last week of my pregnancy my doctor told me I could stop checking my blood sugar which – at the time – felt like such a gift!
My gestational diabetes did not interfere much with the delivery (the girls were born c-section). During the birth my blood sugars sank and I was given a shot of insulin to bring me back up. I remember feeling like I was going to pass out and I got extremely cold, but I was awake and conscious the whole time. I was covered in heated blankets at the end to keep my body temperature up. The girls were born at healthy weights – just under 6 pounds each.
The doctors had to monitor the girls’ blood sugar levels for the first 24-48 hours, but they never left my room and for that I am grateful. There was one instance where the nurse took Ashlyn’s blood sugar and said it was extremely low and that they would have to bring her to the NICU. One thing I learned while checking my own blood sugar was if you get an “off” reading you should take a second reading. Sometimes the strips are defective or the monitor isn’t acting up. I asked the nurse to check A’s sugar again and she refused saying the numbers are right and that there was nothing she could do. So off she went with my baby while I cried. Less than 5 minutes later a doctor brought her back and said they checked her levels again and they were fine so she was brought back to us. I was very thankful that the girls did not have any complications.
Gestational diabetes goes away after your child is born, but I still have to get a blood glucose test every year to make sure I don’t have diabetes. You are more susceptible to developing type 2 diabetes if you’ve had gestational diabetes. I’m glad to report that I have passed all of my follow up tests.
So here’s what I want to be sure to say…
Even though I knew having gestational diabetes wasn’t my fault, I still felt ashamed at times. Being diagnosed with diabetes made me feel like I had failed in some way. Like I had done something wrong. Or there was something wrong with me. But I realized there is no such thing as a perfect pregnancy. And looking back, I believe I had a pretty great pregnancy with twins. Yet, I put so much pressure on myself to do everything “right” that I was too hard on myself at times. Which is why I want to be sure to let others know – whether you are dealing with something like diabetes or another complication – don’t ever blame yourself. Every pregnancy comes with its concerns and challenges. Educate yourself, understand your options, and have faith in your ability to get through it.
In summary, here are the key things I learned from my experience with gestational diabetes:
- It’s a misconception that gestational diabetes is caused by poor eating and exercise habits. Rather, it most likely occurs due to elevated pregnancy hormones and other factors.
- It can be controlled through diet, careful monitoring, and exercise, but not all the time. In fact, some women need to take medication to balance blood sugar levels.
- Consult with your doctor or health professional and make a plan for getting adequate nutrients and vitamins, but do what you feel is right for you and your baby.
- Monitors occasionally give false readings. Double check any figure you think may be in accurate.
- Gestational diabetes goes away after your baby is born, but you still need to have annual or bi-annual tests done to ensure you are healthy.
I hope this post was helpful to you. If you would like to share your experience below, it may be valuable to others who are experiencing gestational diabetes or another complication. And please feel free to share this post.