How I Dealt with My Gestational Diabetes
by Brooke Fotheringham
See other sections of this article here:
- Part 1: What Is Gestational Diabetes? Brooke explains what gestational diabetes is and how it is diagnosed.
- Part 2: Treatment. Brooke describes her adventures in dealing with her risk of gestational diabetes. A must read!
The prescribed gestational diabetes diet recommended avoiding saturated fat as much as possible, and using vegetable oils for all cooking because they are "better for your heart". When testing my blood sugar levels, milk, bread, and vegetable oil all raised my blood sugar out of the acceptable range following meals, so I reverted to my pre-pregnancy diet with more saturated fat, and slightly lower carbohydrate load (it still had plenty of starchy roots, some fruit, and yogurt, but few grains foods) and my blood sugar levels seemed to stay perfectly normal.
From what I've gathered in my research and personal lab work, in addition to how I feel seems to indicate that getting a sufficient amount of saturated fat from pastured animals is one of the better things I've done for myself and by extension my growing baby. In addition to those foods often being high in Vitamin K2, saturated fat protects the liver (several lipotoxicity animal studies would have you believe the opposite, but because of the questionable quality of the saturated fats and other confounding variables, such as rodents used in the tests being natural grain eaters, other foods eaten with the saturated fat included refined carbohydrates and GMO grains, along with the other crap put in rat chow I have yet to be convinced of this). Saturated animal fat also increases bile and stomach acid production to digest your food better, and is even cardioprotective by providing the building blocks to protect the integrity of the cells in your cardiovascular system.
The way the prescribed diet was set up, the few weeks I followed it, I felt I was inching towards ultimately needing insulin injections as my fasting blood sugar levels started to creep up. Ending up with a prescription for insulin was not what I wanted for several reasons. It would have risked me out of being able to have a midwife attended home birth. Insulin injections have also been shown to sometimes lead to underweight babies. I was hoping to avoid both of those things. So, I really scrambled to figure out what I could do to regulate my blood sugar levels. I did a sleep study that showed I had sleep apnea, and got fitted for a CPAP machine. I also started exercising every day, got my thyroid levels checked and went back on thyroid meds because my levels were slowly moving in the wrong direction. All important things to complement the nutritional therapy and regulate blood sugar levels.
So, now you are thinking, great, I'll just go on a low carbohydrate diet while I'm pregnant to manage my gestational diabetes....not so fast. There was a rather compelling study released in Great Britain a few years ago that showed children born to women who had been on low carb diets while pregnant tended to have overweight children. It could be that the people on LC diets were on them because they had a predisposition to weight gain in our current food climate, and their children were equally susceptible. Or it could be that by limiting glucose exposure while their babies were developing triggered an epigenetic gene expression programming their bodies to think they were entering into a low carbohydrate world, and when they found themselves surrounded by crackers and juice boxes all hell broke loose.
I don't think there is necessarily a right or wrong amount of carbohydrate to eat when pregnant, but I think it is worth considering that what we eat (and what we ate in the months leading up to getting pregnant) conveys information to the programming of our children's genes. I tried to come up with a middle path that would hopefully prepare my baby to be as flexible of an omnivore as possible considering the genetic legacy he's been dealt from my health issues without straining his pancreas before he'd even had a chance to use it independently. I aimed for 100-175 grams of carbohydrate per day, preferably grain free (though I did go through an oatmeal and a popcorn phase for a few weeks there while I was trying the prescribed diet to see how different foods impacted me while doing the 4 times per day glucose readings). After that I mostly focused on squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes, fermented dairy, and fruit as my carbohydrate sources.
Balancing my blood sugars was luckily pretty easy for me as long as I followed a few rules:
1. The most important one being avoiding restaurants as much as possible (so very hard, since my food aversions were terrible, I couldn't stand the sight or smell of food while preparing it for much of the pregnancy). I don't know exactly what goes into food cooked in commercial kitchens, though I suspect the ubiquitous jugs of canola oil and/or soy oil, and that just about everything on the shelf at restaurant supply stores has corn syrup in it doesn't help, but every out of range reading I got was after eating even modest servings of restaurant food. There was one exception to the rule, a restaurant where I had corned beef hash, a generous meal that made me cringe thinking about what my post-prandial blood sugar was going to be when I got home, and it was completely fine, less than a 10 point bump at one hour. The difference being that they specialized in local and organic ingredients. According to my glucose meter when eating at a restaurant fresh, local, organic produce and animal products mattered, they mattered a lot.
2. Used my CPAP machine to make sure I got restful enough sleep so as to have a well functioning pancreas and the best glycemic control I was capable of.
3. Exercised every day whether I felt like it or not, even if it was just 5 minutes on the exercise bike, or walking around the block.
4. Checked my thyroid levels every 6 weeks, to make sure my levels were in range. Hypothyroidism can make it hard to control blood sugar.
5. To only eat when I was hungry, and to eat until I was full. Not exactly revolutionary, but the prescribed diet consisted of 6 small meals per day. That kind of meal plan can work to sustain level blood sugars, but I found it disconcerting to never be full, but to never be hungry either. Also, the longer I tried that, the higher my fasting blood sugar levels were. If I really tried to stick to 3-4 real meals, and minimal snacking my fasting levels were great.
In addition to having blood sugar readings that didn't even look diabetic when I implemented my own gestational diabetes diet and ditched the prescribed one, a really cool thing happened, the baby kept growing at a healthy rate, and my weight pretty much stayed the same for the 3rd trimester. The fruits of my labor paid off and I was lucky enough to give birth to a darling 8lb. 6oz. son surrounded by my super supportive crew of midwives, midwifery students, doula, husband, and older son in the coziness of my bedroom a few days after Christmas.
After the birth sticking with a diet based on nose-to-tail meat eating, fish, eggs, nuts, roots, vegetables, aged cheeses, and fruit I was back to my pre-pregnancy weight within 9 weeks (it took over a year with the first baby when I couldn't get enough grilled cheese sandwiches). I'm not sure if it was luck, biology, or nourishment, but I was also blessed with enough extra milk to donate for which I am very grateful.
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