It’s estimated that pregnancy – or gestational – diabetes affects between two and three percent of pregnant women. Although the condition can cause concern, it’s perfectly treatable.
Diabetes is a condition in which your blood-sugar level is high because your body doesn’t produce enough insulin (the blood’s sugar-regulating hormone), or the insulin you do produce isn’t working properly.
Increased thirst, a frequent need to urinate, and feelings of fatigue are all signs of gestational diabetes. But, these are also all symptoms of a normal pregnancy. For this reason, diabetes can be overlooked, so your routine screening blood and urine tests (usually given by your doctor or midwife) are absolutely crucial.
During pregnancy, various hormones typically block the usual action of insulin to make sure your baby gets enough glucose for its own development. To compensate, your body produces more insulin. Gestational diabetes develops when your body can’t compensate properly. As a result your blood-sugar levels rise, and this can lead to problems for both you and your baby.
No one knows why some women develop gestational diabetes and others don’t, but you’re more at risk if the condition runs in your family. Your risk also increases if you have had a stillbirth or given birth to a large baby (weighing more than 9lb. 14oz.), if you’re overweight or obese, or if you have PCOS. If you have gestational diabetes, your blood-sugar levels are high all the time (hyperglycemia). By eliminating foods and drinks that cause blood-sugar levels to rise (such as sugary and refined foods, as well as caffeine), you can bring your blood-sugar levels down naturally.
Gestational diabetes usually begins in the second half of pregnancy, between 20 and 24 weeks. Your doctor or midwife will give you regular blood or urine tests throughout your pregnancy that will pick up the condition, and a glucose tolerance test will confirm it. If the tests are positive, rest assured that the condition will usually go away after your baby is born; if it doesn’t, the chances are your were already at a high risk of developing non-gestational diabetes.
The biggest risk if that gestational diabetes is a symptom of a condition called preeclampsia. Preeclampsia causes high blood pressure, too much amniotic fluid, and premature labor and can also cause your baby to grow larger, which can make delivery difficult. As a result, women with gestational diabetes are more likely to have a Caesarean delivery than women who don’t. After the birth, you may be at a greater risk of developing type II diabetes.
Your newborn baby may also have low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) because after birth he or she may continue to make extra insulin. Fortunately, in many cases normal feeding with breast milk or formula is enough to balance a baby’s blood-sugar levels, but in some cases your doctor may recommend that your baby be given a sugar (dextrose) solution through a drip. Very rarely, if doctors can’t bring your baby’s blood-sugar levels under control, there’s a slightly increased risk of infant death. Your baby is more likely to develop jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes). This usually isn’t serious, and will fade without the need for medical treatment. Gestational diabetes can increase the risk of your baby being born with congenital problems, such as heart defect or respiratory distress syndrome, and your child may be more prone to obesity and diabetes in later life – but the risks are very small.
If you’re diagnosed with gestational diabetes, your doctor may refer you to a clinic with doctors and nurses who specialize in the condition. You’ll be told how often you’ll need to have tests to measure your blood-sugar levels and the kinds of blood-sugar results you need to be aiming for. This is one area where natural medicine and conventional medicine are in complete agreement, and you’ll be given a carefully planned diet and exercise program. Your meal plan will focus on controlling your blood sugar and ensuring that you get the right balance of protein and carbohydrates. It’s well known that regular, moderate exercise can help balance blood-sugar levels, so you will be urged to do at least 30 minutes of activity that gets you slightly breathless each day.
If diet and lifestyle changes don’t’ settle your blood sugar, then you may need daily injections of insulin, and your doctor or specialist midwife will teach you how to do this. You’ll also be taught to recognize the symptoms of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), such as paleness, shaking, hunger, and sweating. You’ll be given advice on what to do if you have these symptoms, such as keeping a sugary soft drink handy. In rare cases, low blood sugar can cause you to faint, and you’ll need an injection of glucagon, which causes the liver to release glucose into the blood to restore your body’s glucose levels. It’s a good idea to make sure your family and friends know what to do if you faint, and even to carry a note about your condition – and what to do in an emergency – in your handbag.
When your baby is born, your doctor or midwife will monitor both you and your baby’s blood-sugar levels.
Everything you eat and drink affects your blood-sugar levels, and we have seen women with a history of gestation diabetes avoid the condition in subsequent pregnancies simply by getting their nutrition right. The same goes for women referred to with borderline blood-test results.
Your daily diet won’t actually be that different from a usual healthy pregnancy diet, but you will need to stick to it rigidly. In general, you’ll need to drink lots of water (at least eight glasses a day) and eat three regular meals and three regular snacks a day. It’s important to space your meals over the course of the day and to mix good wholegrain carbohydrates with healthy protein at every meal, and snack to keep your blood-sugar levels steady. You’ll need to avoid sugar and sweet foods, but also refined carbohydrates, such as white read, cakes, candy, and processed foods, because your body converts tem into sugar too quickly. Eat fresh, natural, unrefined foods – such as whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, and vegetables – that release their glucose steadily. Finally, void undiluted fruit juices because the sugar in undiluted fruit juice will hit your bloodstream too quickly, causing a sharp rise in blood-sugar levels.
Vitamins and Supplements
Make sure you’re taking a good prenatal supplement, as well as the following.
• Prenatal Vitamins, Vitamin C with bioflavonoids (500mg, twice daily, as magnesium ascorbate) Vitamin C is connected to glucose metabolism and can help regulate blood sugar and prevent diabetes. This dosage is a total daily dosage, so account for your prenatal supplement, too.
• Chromium (200ug daily, including the amount already in your prenatal supplement). If you’ve been given some time to sort out your gestational diabetes with a nutritional approach (that is, if your condition does not need urgent treatment), boost the chromium in your supplementation. It helps improve insulin’s ability to move glucose into the cells, so it helps lower blood-sugar levels. Don’t’ take extra chromium if you have been given diabetic medication.
• Omega-3 Fatty Acids (1,000mg fish oil containing at least 700mg EPA and 500mg DHA, daily) Fish oils are important against gestational diabetes, because they help keep your cells soft, so that the insulin receptors on the surface of your cells are more able to use insulin effectively. (Use flax seed oil if you’re vegetarian).
A number of herbal remedies may help stabilize glucose levels in your blood, and these include cinnamon and fenugreek. However, because some herbs can have a rapid effect on blood-sugar levels and because their effects vary from person to person, it’s important to talk to a qualified herbalist and to let your doctor known what you’re doing, rather than self-prescribing.
Other Natural Treatments
Acupressure and acupuncture The World Health Organization endorses the use of acupuncture for help with diabetes. In Chinese medial terms, diabetes is thought of as a deficiency in yang energy in the body. An acupuncturist may use up to a dozen acupuncture points in one treatment session.