No one goes into pregnancy thinking they’ll develop gestational diabetes, but it’s not something that can be prevented. Here’s my story on how I navigated two pregnancies with gestational diabetes. I managed both pregnancies by diet and gave birth to two healthy 7-plus pound babies.
Pregnancy in itself is such a beautiful experience. It’s so amazing what the human body is capable of. While it’s beautiful, every pregnancy has its own set of ups and downs. It can be a bit of an emotional roller coaster.
Luckily, each of my pregnancies was filled with many joyful moments, but the last two brought their own set of challenges especially when it came to my health. I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes, and while it was a little heartbreaking to receive this diagnosis both times, I was comforted by knowing how common this diagnosis is and that there wasn’t anything I could do to prevent it.
Receiving this new diagnosis was a little scary and overwhelming, but I was reassured that if I changed my diet, my baby’s health would be okay.
Three Pregnancies, Yet Different Experiences
I have three beautiful, healthy kids and even though I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes during my last two pregnancies, both experiences were different.
I found out I was pregnant with my first in the winter of 2015. This pregnancy was unplanned but exciting, to say the least. While it had its own host of medical issues such as gestational hypertension, I was able to make it through without a gestational diabetes diagnosis.
I wasn’t so lucky during my second pregnancy though. Due to my recent diagnosis of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), I was tested at 16 weeks and again at around 32 weeks. It was the latter test that made my biggest fear a reality. Navigating a pregnancy during a national pandemic and quarantine was hard enough, but adding on gestational diabetes made things more complicated. I was able to keep my sugar under control with my diet and went on to deliver a healthy baby boy.
Baby number three was a huge surprise for my family and because I had gestational diabetes in a previous pregnancy I was tested early. I failed the one-hour test and had to go in to take the three-hour test. My numbers were borderline but because of my previous history, my OBGYN recommended that I follow a gestational diabetes diet and meet with a Maternal Fetal Medicine (MFM) specialist regularly for monitoring. Again, I was able to remain diet controlled, but I was watched fairly closely the last few weeks due to excessive amniotic fluid or Polyhydramnios.
Learning to Cope with Gestational Diabetes
When I received both diagnoses, I cried. I felt like I had failed my baby and I was so nervous about what was to come. After a few days, I started my own research and found a support group on Facebook and that was my saving grace. It was nice to see that I wasn’t alone on this journey.
Pricking my finger four times a day would be my new normal as well as reading food labels. The diagnosis turned out not to be as bad as I expected especially once I learned how to remain diet controlled.
Being Educated on My New Diagnosis
Once I received my diagnosis, I was immediately scheduled for an appointment to meet with a dietitian. Both times, I was educated on how to manage gestational diabetes with my diet by pairing the right about of protein with carbs to help balance out the sugar. I was then instructed to check my sugar levels four times a day — immediately when I woke up and two hours after breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
My diagnosis came late in my second pregnancy at around 32 weeks, so my OBGYN managed my sugar level in the office. However, with my third pregnancy, I received my diagnosis at around 16 weeks and I was referred to Maternal Fetal Medicine (MFM) specialist who I met with regularly.
I completely changed my diet during both pregnancies, and I managed to remain diet controlled during both. It wasn’t easy, but I joined various gestational diabetes-friendly Facebook groups to help with meal ideas and to learn how to navigate my new normal.
Gestational Diabetes 101
If you’re not familiar with gestational diabetes, according to Mayo Clinic, it is diabetes diagnosed for the first time during pregnancy (gestation). Like other types of diabetes, gestational diabetes affects how your cells use sugar (glucose). Gestational diabetes causes high blood sugar that can affect your pregnancy and your baby’s health.
Testing for gestational diabetes is done in the second trimester. You are instructed to fast and are given a sugary drink. Many people find the drink to be nasty, but I didn’t think it was that bad. It is really sweet though. Being required to fast and then drink it made me sick to my stomach each time. I had to show no sign of distress though because throwing up the drink is an automatic fail at my OBGYN’s office.
They’ll test your blood sugar upon arrival and after an hour. If you fail the one-hour test, you’ll need to fast, drink another drink, and have your sugar tested every hour for three hours.
Close monitoring with a medical professional is extremely important after a diagnosis. If left untreated, gestational diabetes may cause babies to experience:
- Excessive birth weight
- Preterm birth
- Respiratory issues
- Low blood sugar at birth
- Obesity or type 2 diabetes in the future
Gestational diabetes may also cause expecting moms:
- To develop high blood pressure or preeclampsia
- To have a C-section
- To be diagnosed with future diabetes
Testing My Blood Sugar
Keys, wallet, phone, and glucose monitor were the things I now needed in order to leave the house. Four times a day, I was pricking my fingers and I closely monitored the time between each meal. I was officially managing gestational diabetes.
In order to remain diet controlled, my sugars needed to be less than 95 for fasting and less than 120 after breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I had to submit my numbers weekly to the Maternal Fetal Medicine (MFM) specialist and they would review them and make any recommendations if needed.
To keep my blood sugars in range, I found what worked best for breakfast and lunch and would only try newer foods for dinner to be safe. I did a great job staying within range, but I also had a few spikes even with foods that I deemed “safe.” The MFM reassured me that one or two spikes were okay and that those wouldn’t cause any harm to the baby.
Life with Gestational Diabetes
With both diagnoses, it took me a few days to wrap my hand around having gestational diabetes, but once I started managing it daily, I realized that having it wasn’t the worst thing ever. I quickly realized that the key was having a balance between my carb and protein intake.
During my second pregnancy, managing life with gestational diabetes was fairly easy. The entire country was in quarantine, and I was working from home, so I prepared the majority of my meals at home. Things were entirely different during the second diagnosis because I had to plan my meals and snacks in advance since I was back working in the office and life was back to normal. I had to learn how to eat out safely or avoid any meals during social events due to the food choices available.
My love for strawberry lemonade turned into having water with fresh strawberries and lemon or Sparkling Ice water. Desserts were basically off the table. And fruit needed to be indulged in minimally or with protein due to the natural sugars. This was the hardest for me because, with each pregnancy, I craved fruit.
Now don’t get me wrong, managing my carb intake wasn’t easy. Everything that I craved or that sounded good was pretty much off limits and I had to find a low-carb alternative. I did indulge occasionally, but I didn’t make it a reoccurring thing because I wanted to ensure that my babies came out healthy.
My Delivery Experience
Because of my diagnosis, my OB suggested that I be induced both times. With my son, my OB let me go to my due date, but with my third, my OB didn’t want me to go past 39 weeks. My experience with being induced was great. I was given Pitocin both times and requested an epidural pretty early on so that the pain from the contractions wouldn’t hit me all at once. It’s a little bittersweet that I never got to experience going into labor spontaneously, but it was also nice knowing exactly when the baby would be here. That was extremely helpful when it came to coordinating childcare for my other kids each time.
Did Gestational Diabetes Affect My Babies?
When babies are in the womb, they try to overcompensate due to the mom’s elevated blood sugar levels, which can cause them to have low blood sugar at birth. Because of this, babies’ blood sugars are monitored every two hours to ensure their numbers remain within range. Thankfully, neither one of my babies had an issue with their blood sugar. But, now that I think about it, I was never educated on what would have happened if their blood sugar was indeed low.
Gestational Diabetes after Baby
After months of checking my blood sugars, it felt a little weird to no longer be tied to a monitor four times a day. Once I checked in for my induction, my diagnosis of gestational diabetes really didn’t matter. No one asked and I wasn’t given GD-friendly food options to keep my blood sugar numbers within the range. It was basically put on the back burner and I can only assume that was because the baby was coming out anyway and my food intake would be limited during the process and once I gave birth. Gestational diabetes was no longer a threat. I never had my blood sugars checked once during my three-day stay in the hospital.
After the birth of my second, I was given a final glucose test to check if I was a candidate for Type 2 diabetes, but I passed with flying colors. I’ll be doing this routine check again at my six-week appointment. Prayerfully, the results will be the same and I’ll be free from the chains of gestational diabetes.
The Silver Lining
When I was first diagnosed with gestational diabetes, I felt like my body failed my child and that my world was over. I shed quite a few tears, but the journey ended up not being so bad in the end.
Every challenge in life usually has a silver lining and gestational diabetes isn’t any different. All the finger pricks, label reading, and deferred cravings were worth it once my sweet baby was in my arms.
One of the most significant impacts was that I was making healthier food choices. As a result, I was able to manage the amount of weight I gained fairly easily. I lost a bit of weight in the beginning by changing my diet and ended up only gaining a little bit of extra weight.
I was also able to see my blessings via ultrasounds monthly and then weekly during the last month of my pregnancy. You typically only get two, maybe three, ultrasounds your entire pregnancy unless you pay extra out of pocket.
Mama, You Are Not Alone
After joining the gestational diabetes support group on Facebook, I was shocked to learn how common it was for women to receive this diagnosis during their pregnancy. Even the healthiest moms are a part of this dreaded community.
If you were recently diagnosed with gestational diabetes or have had it during a past pregnancy, you are not alone. It’s much more common than you think. I was once there, right where you are, struggling after being diagnosed, but I want to reassure you that everything will work itself out in the end. Mama, you are not alone.
5 Tips on How to Navigate Life with Gestational Diabetes
- First things first, be sure to do the gestational diabetes screening. No testing isn’t fun, but in this case, it’s necessary.
- Seek help from a registered dietitian. I’m pretty positive that your doctor will refer you to meet with a dietitian after you’ve been diagnosed. But if not, ask them for a recommendation.
- Join a support group. I honestly don’t think my experience would have been as good as it was without the support from other moms also facing gestational diabetes.
- Shift your mindset. Instead of using the words “have to” start using the words “get to.” You get to make healthy food choices to protect your baby.
- Small changes make a huge difference. It’s not so much what you’re eating, but how much of it you’re eating. Moderation is key.
If you have any questions about my journey or would like to share your experience on how you coped with gestational diabetes, leave a comment below. Pregnancy is hard enough, and the least I can do is help lift you up during this time.