pregnancy

"I was 34 weeks pregnant when I was told I had gestational diabetes. Here's how I managed." 

Being pregnant with your first baby can be worrying and tiring enough, let alone when you find out you have gestational diabetes. Mum to two healthy boys under four, Amy May tells Mamamia about her experience, and the advice she would give to other pregnant women in the same situation.

“I was 34 weeks pregnant when I was told I needed to see an endocrine specialist to discuss my diagnosis of gestational diabetes. I was shocked because the first of the two tests I had, indicated that my blood glucose levels were only a fraction over the limit and I thought they wouldn’t be concerned.”

Amy’s first test was a ‘fasting tolerance test’, often used as standard practice for all low-risk pregnant women. When her results came back slightly higher than the normal range, she was sent for a full oral glucose tolerance test, which revealed she had gestational diabetes. A relatively common but often misunderstood condition, gestational diabetes affects 12-14 per cent of pregnant women in Australia and is the fastest growing type of diabetes in Australia.

“After my appointment with the endocrinologist, I was told to keep a food diary for the week based on what I would normally eat. I was given a glucometer to test my sugar levels and I discovered that while post-meals my sugar levels were OK with the occasional high, my fasting levels were consistently raised. I thought that they would just ask me to tweak my diet and up my exercise, but they put me on insulin straight away,” Amy said.

According to Diabetes Australia, between 10 – 20 per cent of women diagnosed with gestational diabetes will require insulin injections which are safe for mum and baby and will likely stop after you give birth. Amy had some initial reservations.

gestational
Gestational diabetes is the fastest growing type of diabetes in Australia. Image: Getty.

“At first I felt guilty – had I not been eating well enough? Was I not active enough? I also felt apprehensive about the injections themselves. The more I spoke to my diabetes educator and dietitian, the more I understood and the guilt and fear subsided. I was only interested in looking after my growing baby and staying healthy for him," she said.

Like most women with gestational diabetes, Amy was also encouraged to maintain a healthy diet and stay active.

“I had to stop indulging in the endless chocolate supply at work and I had to give up my nightly ice cream habit, but I made healthy swaps so that I didn’t go hungry and whenever it got hard I would think about my baby to get some perspective.”

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Amy's obstetrician decided on an induction at 39 weeks and her son was born without complication after a short labour.

“My little boy was born after four hours of natural labour. He weighed exactly seven pounds and it goes without saying that we were thrilled! He was perfectly fine but was kept as a special care nursery patient overnight to monitor his blood sugar levels.”

There is a risk that if you have had gestational diabetes with your first pregnancy you are more likely to get it with your second, and unfortunately for Amy, she had exactly the same outcome with baby number two.

“As I was ‘at risk’ I was tested much earlier with my second pregnancy, so I began taking the same long acting nightly insulin dose from 31 weeks," she said. "Second time around was easier as I was more relaxed about managing the condition. I was very busy chasing a toddler, so I simply didn’t have the time to worry!”

Amy's second baby boy, now nine months old, was also a healthy weight of seven and a half pounds and just needed an overnight stay in the special care nursery and some top up formula until her milk came in.

As is the case for most women, Amy's gestational diabetes disappeared after she gave birth. She does however have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life and so should be tested at least every 2 to 3 years.

“My advice for anyone who has just been diagnosed with gestational diabetes is to steer clear of feeling guilty and to listen to the advice of your healthcare team. Ultimately their goal is the same as yours - to keep you fit and well AND give your beautiful baby the best possible start in life.”

pregnant woman
As is the case for most women, Amy's gestational diabetes disappeared after she gave birth. Image: Getty.

Tips for newly diagnosed mums-to-be from an expert:

Mamamia spoke to Dr Ellie Gresham, Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian (APD) and Coordinator for the Paediatric and Maternal Health Interest Group for Dietitians Association of Australia, for some expert-approved information.

Top three tips after diagnosis:

  1. Monitor your blood glucose levels.
    Your credentialed Diabetes Educator can show you how to check your blood glucose levels and help you understand your blood glucose patterns.
  2. Eat healthily.
    See an Accredited Practising Dietitian who can provide expert advice on the proper nutrients for a healthy pregnancy.
  3. Get active. 
    Make sure you discuss this with your obstetrician or midwife prior to commencing any exercise regime in pregnancy.

Top three diet tips:

  1. Eat regular meals and small amounts often; including controlled amounts of high fibre and low GI carbohydrate foods.
  2. Eat a wide variety of nutritious foods including vegetables, fruits, lean meats, and low-fat dairy; including small amounts of healthy fats such as olive oil, avocado, seeds and unsalted nuts.
  3. Avoid food and drinks that are high in added sugars and have little nutritional value.

To locate your local APD, search ‘Find an Accredited Practising Dietitian’ at www.daa.asn.au or free call 1800 812 942.

Find out more about gestational diabetes here.

Have you been recently diagnosed with gestational diabetes? How did you feel? Tell us in the comments below.

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