Written by Natasha Leader, Accredited Practising Dietitian & Credentialled Diabetes Educator
Perhaps it’s an innate part of becoming a mother, or a result of the stress of the coming unknown, or maybe even just a sign of being human. For whatever reason, it’s very common for you to blame yourself when you’re first told you have gestational diabetes. I can’t count the number of women who call me to make an appointment saying they “failed” their glucose test. Or women who sit at that appointment regretfully saying, “I knew I shouldn’t have eaten so much ice-cream”.
This guilt and worry is not surprising though as the diagnosis is most often unexpected. For a lot of you it’s a problem which you may have only read a small paragraph of information about in a pregnancy book. Couple this with the fact that immediate access to any comprehensive information about the condition is difficult, and the uncertainty about cause and the confusion about the diet’s importance certainly don’t help you face this challenge with a positive mindset.
If your pancreas could talk right now, it would be saying, “It’s not you, it’s me”…
So, the good news? You didn’t cause this. Gestational diabetes is a disorder of pregnancy caused by your placental hormones increasing the amount of work your body needs to do to process what you’re eating. When your body is working well, your pancreas will produce as much insulin as it needs to store away the glucose from the carbohydrate food that you eat. Once you have gestational diabetes it can’t do that. So diet matters but it isn’t the cause. As you can read in the ‘Understanding GDM’ section, the risk factors are often out of your control i.e. age, ethnicity, family history.
That said, you can make a big difference to your baby’s health and to your own-both for this pregnancy and any future pregnancies. The key to managing the gestational diabetes is multi-pronged, but approaching the task with a positive mindset is vital. It isn’t easy. You may be working full-time, getting close to approaching maternity leave. Or you might be renovating, moving or looking after other young children and now on top of all that need to track your diet, test your glucose levels several times a day and make extra medical appointments.
It’s your chance to make a difference
The management of this condition can improve the health of your future child and it can also be a chance to positively address your health now so that any future changes changes to diet or lifestyle are already in motion before you’re exhausted by caring for a newborn. Optimising your diet in the pregnancy, keeping healthy afterwards and exercising regularly is the best way you can ensure you ‘re a healthy weight which minimises your risk of future diabetes, as well as potentially avoiding gestational diabetes in any future pregnancies. You may not have caused it but you certainly can help it.