Do’s and Don’ts During Gestational Diabetes

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Published January 10, 2009

“Dear Pharmacist,

My wife is pregnant with our first child and was told she has gestational diabetes. We read your column in our local paper and we’re interested in any information you can tell us about the condition.”

C.D., Gainesville, Florida

Answer: Gestational diabetes is a type of diabetes which occurs during pregnancy. Many women don’t even recognize the symptoms of strong thirst, frequent urination, intense hunger, and fatigue. Women just assume these problems are hormonally-related, so a blood glucose test can be incredibly important.

During pregnancy, the placenta secretes hormones needed for the baby’s growth. But the hormones can block the action of mother’s insulin in her body even though her pancreas is working overtime to make insulin. Insulin is needed to reduce blood sugar (glucose). The placenta hormones seem to make her cells resistant to her own insulin, hence “insulin resistance.” For an expectant mother, gestational diabetes increases the risk of dramatic blood sugar swings, high blood pressure and cesarean section at delivery.

If the blood sugar is controlled and the condition treated, then diabetes will not hurt your baby. The problem is that many pregnant moms go undiagnosed or refuse to comply with dietary restrictions or medication. This causes glucose to build up in the mother’s bloodstream and cross the placenta to her baby and this overtaxes the baby’s developing pancreas. The extra sugar gets stored as fat in the fetus, creating a very large infant whose risk for obesity and diabetes is very high, especially when fed cow’s milk. A study from the New England Journal of Medicine showed that “bovine serum albumin” found in cow’s milk attacks the human pancreas and kills insulin-producing cells of the pancreas. It’s better to breastfeed your baby, even if you’ve had gestational diabetes.

The good news is that gestational diabetes usually goes away after the baby is born, although later in life, the mother’s risk for getting Type 2 diabetes is higher. So I urge you to begin eating healthy now and start exercising soon after your baby is born—don’t wait years for the Type 2 diagnosis.

Ask your doctor about chromium supplementation because studies have shown that it can be helpful in all types of diabetes. The spice cinnamon can improve insulin usage too. Other important nutrients include folic acid, omega 3 fatty acids (fish oil) and gymnema sylvestre.

What you eat is really important. When I was pregnant years ago, I craved herring or mustard. That’s okay for a snack, and so are pickles. But you shouldn’t be eating ice cream, candy bars, cookies or soda. No more humongous meals because it taxes your overworked pancreas. Eat 3 small meals and a few snacks during the day, always limiting carbs. Fiber-rich foods like fruits—especially colorful berries—and vegetables. I strongly recommend whole-grain crackers or bread over white flour products.

Did You Know?
Bilberry tea can lower blood sugar and improve eyesight.