How to Manage Blood Sugar Levels During Pregnancy
We all recognize that a mom-to-be’s health is integral to a healthy baby, and that we must be very careful with what we do with our bodies because it affects or can affect (positively or negatively) how babies develop.
Many of us are aware of perils of high blood pressure, lack of exercise, and how important it is to maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet. We’re familiar with what diabetes and blood glucose levels mean for an adult who is not pregnant, but how do blood sugar levels affect pregnant mothers and what are some ways of maintaining healthy blood sugar levels for the sake of both mom and baby?
Effects of Blood Sugar Levels on Fetal Development
Does blood sugar really impact fetal development? Most definitely. Unbalanced and high sugar levels can increase the risk of:
- Pre-eclampsia (high blood pressure)
- Too much amniotic fluid
- Premature labor and the complications that poses to infant development
- Birth complications resulting in the need for cesarean delivery
- Baby growing too large to safely pass through the birth canal
- Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) in the baby after birth
- Obesity for yourself and child later on in life
- Developing Type 2 Diabetes for yourself or child later on in life.
Hypoglycemia & Gestational Diabetes
Blood sugar problems can occur during pregnancy because estrogen and progesterone “cause an increase in insulin resistance. That means your body needs to produce more insulin to have the same effect on blood sugar as it would have when you aren’t pregnant. This happens so that more sugar remains in your blood to be made available for your baby to use for energy and growth.” (2)
Hypoglycemia occurs when the body produces too much insulin resulting in low blood sugar levels. Insulin is supposed to “make sure that sugar in your blood is taken up by your cells and turned into energy.” (2) When blood sugar gets too low, symptoms may include lightheadedness, dizziness, shaking, headache, sweating, confusion, and vision changes. A drop in blood sugar usually occurs when you go long periods without eating. While low blood sugar doesn’t present any direct risk to the baby, it does to you.
Gestational diabetes, on the other hand, can turn a normal pregnancy into a high-risk pregnancy. Gestational diabetes means that either your body isn’t producing enough insulin to handle the increased sugar levels needed during pregnancy, or your cells are not responding to the insulin resulting in high blood sugar levels. Gestational diabetes usually appear between 13 and 28 weeks. All pregnant women usually receive an “oral glucose tolerance test” (some call it the “Orange Crush test”) between 24 and 28 weeks.
If you have any of the below risk factors, you can anticipate gestational diabetes in your case:
- Becoming pregnant over the age of 25
- Having a family history of diabetes
- Previously gave birth to a baby weighing more than 9 pounds or born with a birth defect
- High blood pressure
- Too much amniotic fluid
- Had an unexplained miscarriage or stillbirth
- History of overweight prior to pregnancy
About 10 to 20 percent of pregnant women are diagnosed with gestational diabetes. (4)
7 Diet and Lifestyle Tips for Maintaining Ideal Blood Sugar Levels During Pregnancy
Sue Gilbert, a consulting nutritionist, recommends the below 7 diet and lifestyle tips to maintain ideal blood sugar levels during pregnancy. (4)
1) Avoid sugar and foods with high sugar content – This is where you need to become a good label reader and look out for foods that list sugar or sweeteners or sweetening ingredients near the beginning of the list of ingredients. Avoid pies, cakes, cookies, fruit drinks, colas, candy, ice cream, syrup, honey, brown sugar, corn syrup, maple syrup, anything ending in –ose (glucose, fructose, dextrose) and molasses. Even unsweetened fruit juices still contain naturally occurring sugars. If you must indulge, make sure you eat these items with a meal and not as a snack. Eating with a meal will slow the absorption rate of the sugar. Choose whole fruits and vegetables. Whole fruits are high in fiber, which slows sugar absorption, and vegetables are very low in sugar.
2) Add more complex carbohydrates to your diet – In today’s low-carb world, people have forgotten that the body actually needs carbs to function and that they are integral to managing blood glucose levels. Vegetables, whole grains, and legumes supply energy and take longer to digest and absorb into the blood stream, which prevents your pancreas from becoming overloaded.
3) Increase intake of dietary fiber – Vegetables, dried beans, cereals, and whole-grain foods decrease the amount of insulin your body needs to maintain normal blood sugar levels.
4) Maintain a low fat diet – While the body needs some fat to help your body absorb vitamins and to provide your baby with essential fatty acids, a high-fat diet reduces the ability of insulin to do its job. Sometimes these fats can be hidden. Avoid products that contain coconut, palm, or palm kernel oil. Look for products that contain unsaturated or mono-unsaturated fats such as fish, margarine, and vegetable oils.
5) Eat at least 6 times a day – Three small meals and three snacks at even intervals throughout the day can prevent fluctuations in blood sugar levels. Include proteins and complex carbohydrates in those snacks and meals.
6) Bedtime snack of protein and complex carbohydrates – Six to eight hours without food can leave you with low sugar levels in the morning. A good bedtime snack might include an apple with whole-grain crackers and low-fat cheese, or peanut butter.
7) Daily exercise – Exercise burns off the extra sugar that your body has stored in your cells and helps keep sugar levels from getting too high.
Sue Gilbert also provides a sample diet that can help keep your blood sugar balanced.
Darlene Oakley is a freelance writer for Empowher.com
1) Gestational diabetes. U.S. National Library of Medicine. Web. Oct 12, 2012.
2) Gestational diabetes (diabetes in pregnancy). Bupa (UK). Web. Oct 12, 2012.
3) Hypoglycemia in Pregnancy. Hughes, Pattie. Families.com. Web. Oct 12, 2012.
4) Blood Sugar Control During Pregnancy: Can Diet Help? Gilbert, Sue. iVillage.com. Web. Oct 12, 2012.