When I was first diagnosed with gestational diabetes, I felt guilty and frustrated. Guilty because I had not been eating the healthiest foods during my pregnancy, and frustrated because I could not easily find the information I was desperately searching for. There is not much history of diabetes, nor obesity in my family. I thought I was a decently healthy person. Sure, I would randomly feel like crap after eating, but I thought it was simply a “side-effect” of pregnancy. Women always complain about how uncomfortable and miserable pregnancy is, so I assumed it was all normal.
Imagine my shock when all those “symptoms” (swelling, nausea, fatigue, dizziness, having to pee ALL the time) went away after I started following the advice of my diabetes specialist and dietitian. It was crazy how fast I began to feel SO much better! Some days I barely noticed I was pregnant! It was bliss. Read on to learn how to manage gestational diabetes!
Google Didn’t Help, Which is Why I’m Here
There was a week between when I got the phone call notifying me of my gestational diabetes diagnosis and when I met with the diabetes specialist and dietitian (“my team”). I tried to Google help, but nothing seemed complete nor answered all my questions. Even after I met with my team, I was overwhelmed and confused! I would choose to not eat, so I wouldn’t have to figure out what to eat. After much trial, error, and frantic phone calls with my dietitian, I finally hammered out the details and found what worked for me. I can’t wait to share what I learned with you!
If any of these 10 things add clarity & minimize any frustration you have felt with your gestational diabetes diagnosis, please make sure to save it for later (pin it!) and share with your diabetic and pregnant friends! Or if you think your diabetic friend would appreciate the free Seven Day Gestational Diabetes Meal Plan, which includes 7 breakfast ideas, 7 lunch ideas, 7 dinner ideas, and 15 snack ideas, then send them a link to this post!
*Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. This means that, at no added cost to you, I may receive compensation for products you purchase through links found on my blog. (Thank you, thank you!) This in no way affects the products I recommend (I only recommend the best)!*
*Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional, so please consult your physician before attempting any of these suggestions. Use your best judgment. What worked for me may not work for you. Each body is different and unique. Do what you feel is best at your own risk. I am not liable for any consequences. I am a blogger. This is a blog meant to provide opinions, suggestions, experiences, and information. Not medical advice. I am human and make mistakes, so information may not be 100% complete or accurate. Thank you, and enjoy!*
What You Need to Know to Crush Your Gestational Diabetes
1. Meet With A Diabetic Specialist and Dietitian!
It seems scary and overwhelming, but it is the best thing you can do for yourself!! They give it to you straight, provide helpful pamphlets with meal ideas, and it is just nice to talk to someone face to face who specializes in diabetes, instead of just relying on the internet, your OB/midwife, or a family practitioner. Your dietitian will give you a list of exactly (or a range) how many carbs you should eat at every eating session.
Mine were 30grams for breakfast, 30g for morning snack, 45g for lunch, 45g for afternoon snack, 45g for dinner, and 30g for my evening snack (half a cup of ice cream). This meant I had to limit my carb intake to 30-45g per meal and snack. I could eat however much protein (cheese, meats, etc) and however many veggies I wanted, but I needed to watch my fruit, grain, starch, etc intake. One thing I loved was that I got to subtract fiber (soluble and non-soluble) from my carbs. So 30-45g meant net carbs. These are the numbers for ME personally. You could have 45g for every meal or even 60g! You will never know until you go talk to them!
Is there any way around the carb limits?
My dietitian told me I could occasionally choose to “save” my carbs for the day if my body reacted well to that. I reeeally love Culver’s, with their butter burgers, butter toasted buns, fried cheese curds, and fantastically smooth custard. One day, we planned on going to Culver’s for dinner, so I ate as few carbs as possible throughout the day (gotta do what you gotta do; surviving off of dairy, meat, and veggies for a day kind of sucks). It was so worth it, though, when I was able to relish my buns, cherish my cheese curds, and delight in (sadly only half) of my frozen custard concrete mixer with chocolate chip cookie dough and brownies. However, this was a veery rare occasion. I did not gorge myself on simple carbs every week or even every month.
You can do this if you know you want a piece of dessert after dinner by only eating almonds and cottage cheese for your afternoon snack, and applying the 45g you didn’t eat to dinner. But you still need to stick as close as you can to your daily carb requirements. We will talk more about making the most of your carbs below.
What is my point here?
Again, don’t be ashamed, or guilty of meeting with a dietitian and diabetes specialist. They are seriously the best people you can talk to, they help you set goals, answer questions, and clarify your carb, calorie, and protein requirements. So if you haven’t already, go set your appointment, and get ready to be uplifted!
2. Don’t Be Plagued By Guilt
Women who eat nothing but trans fat & refined carbs, never exercise, and drink a pack of soda every day can go through pregnancy untouched by gestational diabetes. It does no good dwelling on the past. You can’t change your genes, and you have no control over your husband’s genes (which, according to my maternal-fetal health practitioner, affect your baby’s hormones, and they, in turn, affect your hormones. So if your husband has a history of diabetes in his family, then boom bam, you can be affected by it).
All you can do is focus on the future. What did you discuss with your team? Which foods do you need to limit? What foods do you need to embrace, and creatively work into your diet? Remember to stay positive, and that gestational diabetes goes away as soon as Baby is born! It truly is magical. I had syrup and waffles the day I got back from the hospital with my newborn! Luckily for us, gestational diabetes has a time limit.
3. Only Prick 2 or 3 Fingers
A peer in my college class gave me this tip! We were discussing our gestational diabetes, and how all my poor fingers were aching. She gave me the advice to pick only 2 fingers to prick. Life got a little better after that.
My friend’s mother was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when she was in her forties (so rare!) and has 3 fingers she pricks, but she has to test her sugars 8 times a day! I only had to test my sugars 4 times a day, so I would alternate between two fingers.
I pricked my left middle and left ring fingers (non-dominant hand). Consider which fingers will bother you least!
4. Get the Correct Amount of Calories!
Before I reduced my carbs I would feel full throughout the day, but I would go to bed feeling hungry. I would wake up in the middle of the night suuuuper hungry. But I would never get up and eat something. I believed the mantra “no food after dinner-time.” That all changed when my dietitian told me: “If you are going to bed hungry, it means you did not eat enough calories throughout the day.” Ouch.
I had to FORCE myself and make a massive, conscious effort to make sure I got enough calories throughout the day. This also meant I had to pack as many calories as I could into everything I ate. I realized that refined carbs don’t stick to the ribs (you feel hungry soon after eating them), plus they spike and crash your blood glucose levels. I had to learn how I could cram protein and fats into every “eating session.” (There are 6 eating sessions in one diabetic day. We’ll talk about that more in tip #9).
Some of you ladies might have the opposite problem. Maybe you don’t feel full from refined carbs, so you eat and eat and eat and get too many calories? (Dang those stupid things for being so delicious). Then, the gestational diabetes diet will be a HUGE help! It helps you find good foods you can load up on to feel full longer, and limits empty calorie foods that spike your blood sugar levels, and throw your metabolism out of whack. Tip #5 was key in figuring out what to eat:
5. Protein is Your Best Friend
This was a hard concept to wrap my head around. My mother was a vegetarian for 6 years before I moved out to college (still is), and I was a vegetarian for 6 months before I got married. My husband is an incredible cook, so he converted me back to meat (without trying at all, he was very respectful of my choices), but I still held many reservations about meat and animal products. Never mind the fact that I am lactose intolerant, and feel like I should not have to rely on a little lactase pill to feel good. When my carbs were pared down, I did not know what to replace them with. So I did not replace them with anything. Bad idea, my friend. I felt so much worse.
Embracing protein is the best thing you can do when you have gestational diabetes. Pregnancy is not the time to start a new, drastic diet (no, especially not even the keto diet). If you are a vegetarian or vegan, then something may not be working out well, since you now have gestational diabetes! You are pregnant, so cut yourself some slack, and try to do the best thing for your baby. You are building a human body! Load up on protein! (They are the building blocks of life).
But I am a Creature of Habit, and Adding Protein is Haaard
The devil is in the details. Snacks for gestational diabetes are essential. Add peanut/almond butter to your apple slices. Eat a bowl of cottage cheese after your (small, whole-wheat) bowl of cereal, granola, or oatmeal for breakfast. Include a cheese stick or two when you eat a bowl of cherries or strawberries. Make sure to have salmon, chicken, beef, or pork with your lunches and dinners. Pregnant women need 75-100g of protein a day! Get with it! When you meet with your dietitian, ask her exactly how much you need. Then make it happen! I found the most improvement and had my best diabetes management when I started meeting my protein requirements every day.
6. Beans = Carbs… usually
It was difficult to not feel overwhelmed by all the information being dumped on me. One of the key points to mastering diabetes is that beans & legumes = carbs. If you try to stay away from animal products, make sure to talk to your dietitian about this. One study claims that consuming a serving of beans for dinner helps stabilize blood sugars overnight better than just meat. So I definitely believe beans should be a staple in your diet (same as whole grains instead of refined grains, and whole fruit instead of fruit juice or dried fruit). What my dietitian would tell me is that beans need to be paired with another protein-rich thing, not just carbs on carbs (beans w/ quinoa is better than beans with brown rice).
The key thing is, be wise with what you eat, and test your blood sugars to see how your body reacts. Usually, my BG was in the 90s 2-hours after eating. The one time it shot up over 140 was when I ate some amazing, syrup-soaked French Toast Casserole for breakfast and lunch (heaven). I mentioned my carb limits above, but I would frequently go over them (I would eat 45g of carbs for breakfast, and/or 60g of carbs for lunch & dinner, etc). I would listen to how my body felt afterward, and this is how I knew what my body could tolerate. Honey was a daily staple for me, but some people cannot tolerate honey (it spikes their sugars too much). Sometimes, I could tolerate 30g of refined sugar at a time, but some people can’t do sugar at all and have to rely solely on Monkfruit Sweetener, or Stevia. See what works best for you!
7. Exercise, Exercise, Exercise!
Exercising doesn’t just help stabilize blood sugars, it also helps get blood flow to where it needs to go. A big problem diabetics face is losing feeling in their feet, which leads to untreated injuries and infections because they don’t even realize they are hurt. Although you probably won’t experience this, since you will only be diabetic for a limited time, exercising keeps this symptom at bay. It also reduces varicose veins, leads to a healthy weight, improves health in your pelvis, and gets blood to your uterus & vital organs.
If you thought you ate something healthy (or you know you didn’t) and you start feeling the gut-wrenching vacuum sucking you down into feeling miserable on the couch, GO ON A WALK! A good plan is to just go on walks periodically throughout the day or simply just after dinner. Even if you KNOW you ate something healthy, going on a walk helps your body process the meal better, and helps your body maintain its blood glucose levels better throughout the day. Exercise really, truly helps with mastering diabetes.
But Be Realistic with Your Health Goals
After my gestational diabetes diagnosis, I had aspirations of going to the gym 3 times per week and walks 7 times per week. That never happened. You are pregnant. Go easy on yourself, and take baby steps. If you were not exercising at all before, you can’t expect yourself to start exercising 10 times per week. Start with going on at least three 10-minute walks per week, then increase it to 15 minutes, then four 15-minute walks per week, then 20-minute walks, etc.
I had my sweet 18-month-old son to keep me motivated. Walks were the one time we got out of the house regularly. We would also go on walks after dinner when Daddy was home.
I like walks because they are simple, and I sadly discovered that yoga kills my hips. Try swimming, or go on bike rides, or if you are a runner, keep jogging. Do whatever feels right for your body. The important thing is to stay active, and get outdoors! (Plus, establishing these healthy habits now will help you keep postpartum depression at bay after Baby comes!)
8. Educate Yourself and Your Husband/Birthing Partner
A study found that women with gestational diabetes had weaker, shorter contractions, less calcium, and less muscle tone in their uterus. The numbers were significant, even when accounting for BMI, age, and other factors. What they found in this study might be the reason why women with gestational diabetes have higher rates of Cesarean Sections.
For this reason, if you want to obtain a better chance of vaginal delivery, it is especially important to drink red raspberry leaf tea early in your pregnancy, supplement your calcium, and eat 6 dates a day beginning in your late second or early third trimester. It is also important to do Kegels, pelvic drops, practice breathing down (so you can use your energy to assist your muscles, instead of hinder them), and be comfortable with instantly putting yourself into deep relaxation (Hypnobirthing the Mongan & Carter Methods, or HypnoBabies can help with that).
– *Should You Find A New Medical Practitioner to Handle Your Pregnancy?*
Please highly consider finding a doula to assist in your birth, and changing to a midwife for your prenatal and L&D care. Even if you make the change during week 40 of your pregnancy, or while you are in labor! It is worth it! Doctors will see gestational diabetes as a blaring warning light saying “This woman is at HIGH risk for a Cesarean!!” and will recommend a C-Section at the drop of a hat. Midwives will take it in stride.
With my second, I was pressured into scheduling my C-Section at 39 wks, then 40 wks, then 41 wks, and had to fight for the right to “be allowed” to go 42 weeks. Eventually, after my doctors met with my Maternal Fetal Health (MFH) Specialist, my diabetes specialist, and with a hospital representative, they all agreed to “let” me go to 42 weeks. I maintained my blood glucose numbers to perfection, and nurses (and MFH) always asked: “Are you sure you have diabetes??”
Midwives and doulas will see diabetes as just another factor in your pregnancy. If it is not affecting your baby in any way (my baby was 7lbs, had plenty of fluid, and had a proportional body), and if you are consistently maintaining healthy blood sugar levels, then it really is just a blip.
– Should You Get Induced/Schedule the C-Section Early??
Short answer? No.
My logic: Babies whose mothers had gestational diabetes can have under-developed lungs, and go into respiratory distress even when they are full-term. Babies’ lungs don’t normally develop all the way until at least 39 weeks. I wanted to give my babies as much time as possible to get their lungs good and ready for the real world. See here for data on stillbirths & gestational diabetes. The numbers are so small, it is almost statistically irrelevant. So if you are maintaining your glucose levels perfectly, and your baby seems healthy and normal, then DO NOT be pressured into being induced early. (ultrasounds are frequently grossly inaccurate when estimating Baby’s weight, what you need to look out for is a disproportionate baby)
They also found that Pitocin is not effective with women who have gestational diabetes, so do your best to prevent using that. One intervention may lead to a domino effect of interventions- ending in a C-Section. Work with a midwife to give yourself the best chance at having a safe pregnancy and vaginal delivery.
9. You Need to Eat Every 2-3 Hours.
Eat the moment you wake up (this also prevents nausea/morning sickness), then eat breakfast 2-3 hours later, then a snack 2-3 hours after that, then lunch 2-3 hours later, etc, etc). Eating every 2-3 hours keeps your body fueled and maintains your blood glucose levels. However, this does not mean to eat 6 full blown dinners every day, this means to eat 3 small, low-carb meals, and 3 moderate, high protein snacks.
Your dietitian will give you a list of the recommended amount of carbs for you to eat during each “eating session”. Once you hit your carb limit, if you are still hungry, you need to eat protein-rich or carb-low things. Stock up on boiled eggs, carb-free beef jerky, celery with unsweetened peanut butter, etc. Also, it is essential to make sure every carb counts (don’t throw your carbs away with simple, refined versions). Make sure you eat only whole grains, no refined sugars (Monkfruit Sweetener was a decent substitute- even though, I know, nothing can ever beat cane sugar), and explore some Paleo meal and snack ideas (I love these Paleo cookbooks). Having some low-carb gestational-diabetes-friendly desserts on hand made me a little happier (I could gorge every now and again with no guilt!)
Best ‘Doctor’s Orders’ Ever:
The only time you should go longer than 3 hours without eating is between dinner and evening snack (and when you are sleeping at night). Your last snack of the day should be eaten immediately before you go to bed. The best improvement I found was when I followed my dietitian’s recommendation to eat half a cup of ice cream before bed. I tried eating crackers and cheese, or yogurt and fruit, or peanut butter and apples, but nothing kept my blood sugars as stable or helped me wake up feeling like a decent human being like ice cream did.
I always bought Tillamook Rocky Road, because it is a custard, which has eggs in it (extra protein) and almonds (extra protein). The logic behind eating ice cream is that it has a good balance of proteins, fats, and carbs, which helps your little pregnant body stay stable at night when you have to go way more than 3 hours without eating. Sometimes I would even sprinkle extra slivered almonds or walnuts if I felt like I didn’t eat enough protein throughout the day.
10. Organize a Meal Plan!
When I wrote down the snack and meal options available to me, it was SO much easier to know what to eat so I could maintain my blood sugars, and ensure I ate enough calories. Instead of having to guess and Google before every meal, having a list written down and recipes copied onto my phone or pinned to my Pinterest took some of the guesswork out of my “eating sessions”.
Try to find things you enjoy, and rotate them throughout the weeks. Find a variety, because eating the same thing over and over can get tiresome, plus it does not provide the plethora of nutrients you and your baby need to grow & function best. I searched and searched and searched for a gestational diabetes or even just normal diabetes meal plan I could follow, something that just laid it out and took ALL the guesswork out for me. I would have paid top dollar for a month-long or even two-week meal plan!! Nothing like this existed. Until now!
To make life a little easier for you, I have organized this FREE 7-day gestational diabetes meal plan. It is for an omnivorous diet. I did not repeat the exact same thing over and over, because I hate when people do that (“eat leftovers for lunch”, “eat the exact same thing for snacks every day,” etc). Except for the half cup of ice cream for your evening snack, as previously discussed above, all the suggestions included are unique! These are real, simple (non-crazy diet) foods that I truly ate during my very real pregnancy with gestational diabetes. I have included 7 recipe links and 1 link to show you what the best granola out there is. The recipes included are indicated with an asterisk (*).
Sign up with your email below for
- SEVEN unique breakfast ideas
- SEVEN delicious lunch ideas
- SEVEN amazing dinner ideas
- FOURTEEN scrumptious snack ideas.
- Plus it is assumed you eat 1/2 cup of ice cream as your pre-bedtime snack every day.
- 7.5 Recipe Links included
- Meet with your diabetes specialist & dietitian! Get your personalized details hammered out.
- Think of what you can do to treat & manage your gestational diabetes in the future, not what you did wrong in the past!
- Only prick 2-3 fingers!
- Make sure you are getting the correct amount of calories! If you are going to bed hungry, you need to try harder the next day! (And get up & eat some ice cream)
- Protein is your best friend!
- Beans = carbs, so pair them with something else protein-rich. Make sure your meals & snacks are not carb heavy.
- Exercise!! Get up and get out! Even if it is too cold or too hot! You gotta do it. Maybe get a gym membership, and be active on their track, in their pools, on the ellipticals, etc.
- Educate yourself! Birth is a marathon! You don’t show up to a marathon untrained! Take an in-hospital & out-of-hospital birthing class, arm yourself, your birthing partners, and your uterus to have the best possibilities during labor!
- Eat a well-rounded meal or snack every 2-3 hours! (eat when your toddler eats)
- Get a meal plan going! Write down your favorite recipes, and download my Free meal plan for some ideas!
Now that you have a clearer path, are less frustrated with your diagnosis, and know that gestational diabetes is not scary if you know how to handle it, go forth, and crush it!
If you have any questions for me, I would love to hear them! Pop a comment below, or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for reading! Stay strong, Mama!
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