During pregnancy women can develop gestational diabetes mellitus due to changes in hormone levels. Diabetes mellitus, commonly known as diabetes, is a condition where there is too much sugar, also known as glucose, in your blood. This happens when your body’s hormone, insulin, is not working as it should. Insulin moves glucose from your blood so your body can use it for energy. This type of diabetes, which occurs during pregnancy usually goes away after the baby is born. If not treated, gestational diabetes can cause health problems for you and your baby. Developing gestational diabetes shows that you are also at risk of developing diabetes in later life. To prevent this, it is very important to maintain a healthy lifestyle and healthy weight throughout your lifetime.
The Role of Food
Everything you eat and drink can impact on your health but only carbohydrate foods will turn to glucose in your blood. Carbohydrate foods provide the body with energy, therefore they play a very important role in the provision of energy for growth and development throughout pregnancy.
Foods that contain carbohydrates include bread, cereals, pasta, rice, potatoes, fruit, milk and yoghurt as well as sugar and sugary foods.
Aim to manage your blood glucose levels by following a healthy diet which includes carbohydrates and also to take regular, gentle exercise daily. Use the food pyramidas a guide.
It is best to see a dietitian for specific advice but here are some tips to help keep your blood glucose under control while keeping you and your growing baby well nourished:
- Eat evenly-spaced meals (breakfast, mid-day and evening meal) and small snacks daily. Do not skip meals. You may find yourself eating too much at the next meal because you are overly hungry from eating too little at the previous meal.
- Aim to include portions of whole grain carbohydrate at each meal. Use the food pyramidas a guide. Examples include; whole grain bread, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, new potatoes, sweet potatoes or high fibre, unsweetened breakfast cereals such as porridge or high fibre varieties.
- Eat 5 portions of vegetables and fruit daily. Fruit has natural sugars, so it is important to eat these in small portions and space them out during the day. Fruit juices also have a lot of natural sugar in its contents with little or no fibre, here it is better to eat whole fresh fruit and avoid the juices.
- Choose healthy snacks such as a piece of fruit, diet or natural yoghurt, a glass of low fat milk, wholegrain crackers with light cheese or raw vegetables with hummus to dip.
- Avoid foods high in sugar or honey such as sweets, chocolates, jams, marmalades, desserts, cakes, sweet biscuits and sweet drinks. These foods do not provide good nutrition and will raise your blood glucose too high. You may use small amounts of artificial sweeteners like Splenda®, Hermesetas® or Canderel® instead of sugar. Sugar-free cordials and sparkling water are other alternatives but plain water is most ideal.
- Limit fatty or fried foods and take-aways. Use small amounts of butter, oils and spreads. Grill, bake and roast your foods rather than frying in oil.
- Make time to get some exercise daily. Build it into your day if you have a tight time schedule. Try walking for 10-15 minutes at your lunch break or during your commute to work. Take an after-dinner walk with a partner or friend. Try a prenatal exercise class in your hospital or community. Always get your doctor’s advice before starting up a new activity especially if you have any health problems, pains or discomfort.
- It is very important that you speak with your obstetrician and a dietitian to ensure effective, efficient management of your gestational diabetes. This will ensure that your blood sugar levels remain tightly controlled and your baby is provided with the best environment to grow and develop naturally.
Continue your healthy diet and exercise after your baby is born to stay a healthy weight and reduce your risk for diabetes later in life. Get the whole family involved so that you all stay healthy together!
Updated by Laura Harrington MINDI December 2015. Review date: December 2018.
© 2015 Irish Nutrition and Dietetics Institute, INDI. All rights reserved. May be reproduced in its entirety provided the source is acknowledged. This information is not meant to replace advice from your medical doctor or individual counselling with a dietitian. It is intended for educational and informational purposes only.
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