Gestational Diabetes: What to Expect, What to Eat, and Sweet Tooth Confessions

When I was growing up, my parents gave us kids nicknames based on the foods we loved most. My eldest brother loved meat, so they called him Carno. My second eldest brother loved bread, so they called him Carbo. Me, their baby girl, could never get enough sweets, so they named me Sucro. With a name like Sucro, obviously my diagnosis of gestational diabetes was not welcome at all. After pricking my fingers 4 times a day for two months now, I have to say it’s getting old. I don’t deny that it is a learning experience for me and my initial melodramatic reaction of seeing it as a “death sentence” was really not necessary.

Just like all pregnancies are not created equal, the same goes for diagnoses for gestational diabetes. Some women have to go on very strict diets and check their blood sugar one hour after every meal, including snacks. Others, like me, are asked to keep their fasting blood sugars under control, meaning that the glucometer has to read below 90 first thing in the morning. Also, sugars and food intake need to be monitored and documented two hours after every meal. The acceptable range of blood sugar for a pregnant woman ranges between 80-120 on a glucometer. I have been pretty successful keeping the numbers under control by changing my diet and the doctor prescribed me glyburide to take at night for my fasting numbers. I am on a low dose of glyburide myself, but other cases need a higher dose of medication. I have also observed how GD has affected two of my sisters-in-law with their pregnancies and it is not easy to adapt.

What has been the hardest thing? I’d have to say the change to my breakfast routine. I had already cut out caffeine from my coffee, which came with caffeine withdrawal headaches for about a month. Now I have to use Stevia instead of my favorite sweet coffee creamer and I am not a fan of the taste. I also really love cereal, and even the cereals labeled “healthy” have the tendency to spike my blood sugar. I would describe my diet as a moderate marriage between the Keto diet and the Atkins diet. Carbs aren’t necessarily omitted, but limited. Here is an outline of my meals that I have more or less counted on for this pregnancy:

Breakfast: Eggs paired with breakfast sausage or bacon, sometimes with zucchini or bell peppers and/or cheddar cheese.

Lunch: Chicken salad with light mayo and red grapes on fresh spinach leaves. I bake chicken breasts at 325 degrees for 30-35 minutes and then shred it in the Kitchen Aid mixer.

Low-carb tortilla with refried beans and a sprinkle of cheddar cheese.

Sandwiches on whole wheat toast.

Dinner: I stay flexible at dinnertime. I usually stick to chicken, steak or fish dishes, but if it is a heavy carbohydrate meal, I serve myself a small portion and pair it with either fruit, vegetables or protein to keeps my numbers balanced.

What about snacks, you ask? On one follow-up with my doctor I had lost weight since I changed my diet. She asked if I had been skipping meals. A necessary question, sure, but I wanted to break down and sob right in front of her and say “Nooooo. I am ALWAYS hungry.” My snack routine is an alternation of fruit and Atkins products between meals. The main craving I have had this pregnancy is apples. I haven’t been without them at all. I sometimes dip them in peanut butter, but I use the natural Laura Scudder’s peanut butter, because it is just one ingredient; peanuts. I eat plain yogurt (which by itself, tastes like death), but when I add Stevia and strawberries it is tolerable. The Atkins shakes and bars have low carb counts and low sugar counts. I never thought I would find bars with these kind of nutrition facts that didn’t have the gelatinous grossness that is the power bar aftertaste, but these bars are game changers. They satisfy my sweet tooth, keep my sugars under control and I don’t get hangry. My favorite flavors of Atkins bars are the peanut butter, lemon, and cookies n cream. Keep in mind, this is what has worked for me. If you have gestational diabetes, talk to your doctor about what your diet needs to look like.

Are you allowed cheat meals when you have gestational diabetes? Again, it depends on your case. We are all human and pregnancy is hard. It is not just an old wives tale that we crave things that are bad for us. This year was my 13th wedding anniversary, and we badly wanted to celebrate. We got Olive Garden take-out and I had two breadsticks with my soup and salad. It was not a banquet, by any means, but I was worried about it. Thankfully it didn’t do anything to my numbers. Also, the dolcini desserts were the perfect end to a special celebration. I had a few bites and even shared some with my kids. It was a small, sweet treat. As long as your cheat meal doesn’t turn into a cheat week, don’t beat yourself up over a morsel when you have been eating salads all week. Guilt and stress over food intake could be far more harmful than a tiny indulgence.

Eating too much sugar and carbs is not always responsible for blood sugar spikes. A few weeks ago, the doctor was concerned about what the ultrasound was showing. She said my baby was measuring small and that early delivery is very likely. She wanted to be cautious and had me take two steroid shots that are meant to mature the baby’s lungs in case of pre-term labor. What she failed to mention was that these steroid shots have a history of spiking blood sugar. Imagine my horror at a reading of 190 after a healthy dinner of beans and vegetables. I even pushed myself to go 15 minutes on my elliptical machine that evening. Pair that with the uncertainty of a healthy delivery, and you get one worried mama. This was over 4th of July weekend, so the OB office was closed. I made a phone call to Labor & Delivery at the hospital and they put my mind at ease. On my next visit, when my doctor saw my logs, she remarked, “Oh I suppose I should have warned you about the steroids.” Ya think?

I have also heard that stress can be a cause for high blood sugar numbers. Stress can come when you’re pregnant. You’re going through a lot. We are growing a human being, we are going to be responsible for keeping this human being alive, and when you have gestational diabetes, the pressure to stay healthy, thinking about baby “what-ifs”, and stick that all in the middle of a global pandemic, yeah, stress is likely. Exercise after meals helps keep your blood sugar down also, but to be honest with you all, (and cringing over potential judgment) I haven’t really committed to daily exercise. At the beginning, I tried to take walks after dinner, but this month we are in the middle of a heat wave in New Mexico, and I can’t seem to get passed 10 minutes on the elliptical machine. In this eighth month of pregnancy I’m slowing down big time.

At my last visit to the doctor, I eyed the vending machine and I have plans to tell my husband to just buy me everything in there once baby makes his appearance. Stay calm, I’m exaggerating. I told my son and daughter about it and the concept of buying an entire vending machine sounded glorious to them, and they obviously didn’t catch that it was hyperbole. It hasn’t stopped them from telling all of our family members and friends that I am getting a vending machine when baby comes. If you have an active lifestyle and this is easy for you, that is awesome, and I applaud you super healthy rock stars. If you aren’t used to this kind of routine, remember to breathe and don’t freak out. The glucose test comes late in the pregnancy and it really is a blip on the pregnancy journey. It is a very short time for you to make adjustments to your lifestyle. If Sucro can do it, so can you.

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