When you’re pregnant or planning to be, it’s time to pay special attention to what you eat. That’s especially true if you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Eating a variety of wholesome foods, working with a dietitian, and skipping unsafe foods and drinks will help you keep yourself and your baby healthy.
Talk to a nutrition expert
One of the most common pregnancy nutrition myths is that during pregnancy, you should eat for two. During the first trimester of pregnancy however, you don’t need to eat extra calories.
And throughout your second and third trimesters, you only need an additional 300 to 450 calories a day, which can be spread across two healthy snacks.
If you’re overweight or obese and you have gestational diabetes however, the amount of pregnancy weight gain varies depending on your body mass index (BMI).
To get a better idea of how many calories you need each day, how much weight you should gain and what foods to eat, ask your OB/GYN or midwife to make a referral to a medical nutrition therapist.
Don’t skip tests
Screening tests for gestational diabetes are fairly common, although it can depend on your doctor. The Canadian Diabetes Association calls for all pregnant women to be screened, while the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada advises screening only for women with risk factors.
Once you’ve been diagnosed, your doctor will give you a glucometer to measure your blood sugar four times a day, first thing in the morning and after every meal. Controlling blood sugar, based on frequent testing, is the absolute best way to ensure a healthy pregnancy for mother and baby.
Take a walk
No need to run a marathon. Even a 10-minute walk right after a meal can help bring down blood sugar levels, no matter what type of diabetes you have. With gestational and type 2 diabetes, regular exercise, combined with healthy eating, can delay or even prevent the need for extra insulin.
According to the Mayo Clinic, physical activity stimulates glucose transfer into cells, where it’s used for energy, and increases cells’ sensitivity to insulin so your body doesn’t need to produce as much to keep blood sugars low. Swimming, yoga and cycling are also good options for pregnant women, even late into their terms, but always check with your doctor before starting a new exercise habit. If you haven’t been active for a while, start slowly and build up gradually.
Avoid foods that spike your blood sugar
It’s important avoid foods that will spike your blood sugar including processed foods, fast food and foods that are refined and high in sugar.
Be sure to read labels carefully because many foods like yogurt, salad dressings, marinades, and condiments are sneaky sources of sugar and should be avoided.
Get tested post-delivery
Care for gestational and other types of diabetes doesn’t end with a healthy delivery. Recently, the Canadian Diabetes Association launched an education program designed at getting women who’d had gestational diabetes back in their doctors’ offices for postnatal tests.
University of Toronto researchers linked gestational diabetes to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes within nine years after giving birth.
Foods high in protein help balance blood sugar so it’s a good idea to get some at every meal and snack.
Eggs, fish, meat, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, tofu, tempeh and edamame are all great sources of protein.
Although most women eat healthily during their pregnancy having diabetes of any type means being extra attentive. Diet alone can control gestational diabetes in about two-thirds of cases.
A typical diet is three meals a day, plus three snacks in-between, with carbs, protein and fats at every meal. “Breakfast needs to be particularly small, since it’s the time of day when the hormones of pregnancy increase the blood sugars more.” It is suggested that one piece of toast (or carb equivalent), compared to two pieces of toast at lunch or dinner, alongside a balanced assortment of vegetables, fruits and dairy products.
A bedtime snack is also crucial. “Because women are transferring so much glucose to the fetus, they’re more prone to have low blood sugar if they go for a long period-say, from supper until breakfast the next morning-with nothing to eat,” Snyder explains. Peanut butter and crackers, or a glass of milk with bread and cheese are good options.