Why worry about high blood sugars during pregnancy? Moms and babies face serious complications when blood sugars get too high during gestation. Babies born to moms with uncontrolled diabetes can be too small or too large — less than 5 pounds or more than 9 pounds — at birth. Both these extremes set baby up for major health problems during his or her lifetime, including obesity and type 2 diabetes.
The goal? Provide all the important nutrients baby needs for normal growth and development without making mom’s blood sugars skyrocket. The solution? Smaller meals and snacks distributed throughout the day. Most women with diabetes during pregnancy may need to eat five to six times a day to keep meals small enough to prevent abnormal rises in blood sugar levels.
Here are some other tried and true strategies to control diabetes during pregnancy:
- Cut the extra sugar. Regular sodas, juice, candy and other sources of extra sugar can spike mom’s blood sugar and put baby at risk. Reasonable amounts of sugar-free products made with sweeteners such as acesulfame potassium, aspartame, sucralose and neotame are considered safe for use during pregnancy.
- Curb other carbohydrates. This can be tricky, since carbohydrate foods such as fruit, whole grain breads and cereals, milk and yogurt supply vital nutrients for building a healthy baby. Pregnant women with diabetes require a minimum of 175 grams of total carbohydrates a day… but no more than 30 to 45 grams at a time.
- Eat your veggies. Non-starchy vegetables such as leafy greens, tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, artichokes, green beans and carrots supply vital nutrients for baby to develop normally… with minimal effect on blood sugar levels.
- Control the urge to eat a whole cantaloupe at one sitting. Even though whole fruit is a healthful source of fiber and other essential nutrients, large portions of fruit can make blood sugar levels jump too high. And most experts advise pregnant women with diabetes to avoid fruit juice entirely.
- Don’t skimp on protein. High quality protein builds high quality babies and has minimum effect on blood sugar levels. Good sources include low fat meat, milk, yogurt and cheese, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts and soy-based foods.
- Eat smaller amounts of fat, and choose from healthful sources such as nuts, seeds and oils. Omega-3 fats in fish, flax, walnuts and other foods benefit baby’s brain and eye development. (Fish more likely to be contaminated with mercury such as shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish should be avoided during pregnancy, according to guidelines from the Environmental Protection Agency.)
- Put the brakes on excessive weight gain if you start your pregnancy in the plus-size category. New evidence is emerging that mild calorie restriction during pregnancy — with medical supervision — may benefit overweight women with gestational diabetes.
- Get some exercise. Thirty minutes a day of appropriate exercise — such as walking away from the refrigerator — is recommended for most healthy women during pregnancy, according to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG). Physical activity helps keep blood sugars under control, which keeps baby from growing too big.
- Get some help. Women with gestational diabetes need the help of qualified diabetes educators to learn how to monitor their blood sugars and control their diet.