Wednesday, September 1, 2010

How to Survive Gestational Diabetes

I failed my three-hour glucose tolerance test miserably from the start. Frustration and guilt overwhelmed me. Had I eaten too much Halloween candy? Why was this happening to me? I was healthy—I loved vegetables and I didn’t stop jogging until I was four months along in my pregnancy. What else could I do to take care of myself when I was doing my best already? How would I survive the holidays, let alone my third trimester, without my favorite desserts?

Laughably, I think I passed through all the stages of grief after being diagnosed with gestational diabetes: depression, guilt, anger, tolerance, and, finally, acceptance. To be treated for gestational diabetes, I was put on a strict low-carbohydrate diabetic diet. My doctors monitored me closely to make sure that I was getting enough to eat to grow a baby but not getting too many carbohydrates that would raise my blood sugar too high. Going on the diabetic diet was difficult but doable. Some women also have to take medication and/or insulin to get their gestational diabetes under control.

The end of the story is that I survived and had (and have) a healthy baby. Although any sort of complications during pregnancy are scary, gestational diabetes is not the end of the world. You can make it! Whether you or a family member or friend has been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, here are my ten snippets of advice on how to survive and how to help.

1. It is Not Your Fault, and You Are Not Alone
Gestational diabetes has developed in your body because of the way that your body reacts to hormones during pregnancy, not because you’ve done something wrong. Although 2-4% is small percentage of pregnant women, but that means that there are probably a handful of women who have had gestational diabetes in your ward. Start asking around for comfort, advice, and support. Any woman who has gone through this would love to help and will be full of ideas.

2. There are Perks
If you follow the diabetic diet, you won’t gain very much extra weight in your pregnancy and you’re likely to be back down to your pre-pregnancy weight in a jiffy. If the perks don’t motivate you enough, just remember that following the diabetic diet will decrease your chances of needing a c-section and/or birthing a large baby. Of course, doing what is best for your baby is your prime motivation as well.

3. Give Up the Baked Goods
It’s pretty rough to find ways to substitute both flour and sugar, the two demons of carbohydrates in baked goods. Feel free to experiment as much as you want with Splenda and almond flour, but don’t let yourself get too frustrated. Do the best you can at home, and just accept the fact that store-bought baked goods are probably out of your diet for a few months.

4. Say Yes to Protein
Keep high-protein snacks ready-to-eat in the fridge to fill in between meals and snacks. Some good ideas are sliced cheese (buy a bunch of different kinds to keep yourself excited about it) and eggs (hard-boiled, deviled, omelets). Nuts are another good high-protein filler.

5. Creativity is the Key
Embrace your low-carb menu like it’s a game. How many different types of vegetables can you eat with dip instead of bread? What can you eat in a lettuce wrap instead of as a sandwich? How can you eat the most with the fewest amount of carbs?

6. Eating Out is Out
It’s easier to control your diet when you make your own food and difficult to find low-carb options at restaurants. If you do want to eat out, try to find nutrition facts online for the restaurant (although in my experience this usually means my option is the house salad).

7. Watch That Diet Label
“Low carb” and “diet” labels can be misleading. Be sure to read the nutrition facts for yourself to make sure you’re choosing the best option. Sometimes foods that are labeled diet are better than the ones marked low carb. Sometimes foods that don’t have either label are the best choice.

8. Communicate With Those You Love (and Those Who Feed You)
Being pregnant and diabetic during the holidays seemed like complete torture at first glance, but communicating with your friends, family, and whoever else you will be eating with can really ease the pain of not eating what you want. Be upfront: let people know that you really wouldn’t appreciate a plate of holiday cookies this year. I asked my mom to please not serve my favorite dessert so I wouldn’t feel tortured. At events, work with the hostess to make sure that there are enough low-carb options that you can still feel festive.

9. Countdown to Freedom
Most likely this is only temporary and you won’t be diabetic anymore after you give birth. Keep yourself motivated by remembering you only have a few weeks longer and thank goodness you don’t have to do this for the rest of your life.

10. Be Aware
Your baby is likely to have low blood sugar after the birth, so be on the lookout to make sure that your baby has the stamina to eat enough during those first few days. Watch closely for signs of dehydration: not enough wet diapers, sunken or ridged head, dry or cracked lips, lethargy, weight loss, unhealthy skin coloring.

Gestational diabetes really helped me count my blessings and appreciate the fact that in general my health is good. I feel a lot more sympathy, respect, and sensitivity for people who have strict diet restrictions from allergies or chronic illness. I also feel very motivated to do what I can to prevent type-2 diabetes in my family by eating healthy and being active. Above all, I’m grateful for modern medicine and doctors that knew how to keep me and my baby safe, because, honestly, a hundred years ago I probably would have died in childbirth. With that in mind, I think I can give up pie any Christmas and still smile about it.


Marie Ricks said...

As Jenn's mother-in-law, I learned a great deal during this season of Jenn's life. It was important for me to learn everything I could about diabetes and overcome my ignorance about its cause, her food requirements, and how to best support her. I also learned to inquire how to meet her dietary needs when her family came to our home for meals. It was useful to join her in eating her diet once in a while to understand how it made her body feel to be on a low carb diet. It was a season of growing in understanding for me, too.

Rachelle said...

Great article! I just gave birth to baby #4 and suffered from gest. diabetes also. I think I went through all the stages of grief too, :). I was so strict with myself though and me and my baby did great. So glad that is over, but thankful for what I learned from it!