Bitter-sweet struggle, or how to recognise and fight the gestational diabetes

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Pregnancy is a period of rapid changes that are taking place not only in a woman’s life, but above all in her body. It is often accompanied by more or less unpleasant symptoms. Fatigue, nausea, sleepiness, constipation, heartburn, varicose veins and back pain are just some of the symptoms associated with pregnancy. Effectively, they reduce the quality of life and well-being of women. Unfortunately, this is not all. Sometimes turbulent changes in the hormone economy can have very serious consequences. One of the most common is called gestational diabetes, which if left untreated can be dangerous for both mother and baby.

Glucose delivered to the body with food is a dose of energy required for the proper functioning of the body. It is a fuel for appropriate functioning of the muscles, brain and liver, and is also responsible for maintaining the right body temperature. However, to be able to benefit from it, insulin is necessary, i.e. a hormone produced by pancreas (it distributes simple sugars from the blood to the inside of the cells). At times it happens that as a result of improper processes the level of insulin is disturbed. This causes an increase of sugar levels in the blood, and as a consequence – to diabetes. Hyperglycemia is nothing else but a group of metabolic disorders characterised by high levels of glucose in the blood. This disease occurs at all ages and its basis is very complex. „One of the types is gestational diabetes, which is recorded in almost 7% pregnant women. It is a consequence of rapid hormonal changes, particular burden on the body and increased stress. It is very dangerous and brings a series of risks not only for the mother, but also the growing baby. This is why prevention is so important, as well as quick reaction to the first symptoms” – explains the dietitian, Iwona Gryszkin.

How to diagnose diabetes

Gestational diabetes is usually a transition process, which disappears after the labour; however, it should not be ignored in any case. Untreated in mothers may lead to the chronic type 2 disease, which requires constant monitoring and taking medications; it may cause blood pressure, more frequent genitourinary tract infections, premature labour and problems with losing weight. In extreme cases it may even lead to a comma. „In a developing baby the consequences may be even worse. The most dangerous complication is stillbirth, respiratory failure, the risk of damage to the nervous system or ventricular hypertrophy. Macrosomia is also a frequent thing, i.e. too much weight of the new-born and the congenital diabetes” – explains Iwona Gryszkin, a dietitian. In order to alleviate the excess of glucose, the treatment of disorder should start as early as possible. Contrary to appearances, diabetes is easy to detect, but no symptoms should be ignored, and one should consult a doctor as soon as possible. The most common signs include excessive thirst, excessive urination, sudden hunger attacks, fatigue, as well as fungal and bacterial infections of the urogenital system. In addition, the diagnosis is very simple – the study is performed with urine and blood – twice – at the beginning of pregnancy and between 24 and 28 week. If the results are abnormal, the more specialised tests and consultations with a diabetologist are recommended.

Diet of mum with diabetes

The main remedy for diabetes is a proper diet. In case of pregnant women it is doubly important, because introducing the insulin shots is the last resort. „The woman’s menu should be based on three basic rules. Firstly, it is necessary to increase the number of consumed meals to 5-6 per day; however, they shouldn’t be big and should be spread evenly throughout the day. The second rule is to avoid too long breaks between the meals. And thirdly, most importantly, it is necessary to eliminate the products with a high glycemic index, which strongly increase the level of glucose in the blood” – explains Iwona Gryszkin. They are, of course, sweets, but also white bread, boiled potatoes, fatty meats, fried foods and fruits, especially those that are very sweet. It is important for the meals to, despite the limitations, provide the necessary vitamins and minerals. In the diabetic diet the following products prove themselves: wholegrain products, lean meats, fish and a large amount of vegetables. “The selection of drinks is equally important. It is necessary to remove from the daily diet all artificially sweetened drinks, and – what seems to be not so obvious at times – this includes fruit juices, also those without added sugar. They can be replaced by unsweetened tea, and – best of all – by still water with a low mineral content, e.g. Mammy and me. Replenishing fluids is very important, so you should drink approx. 2.5-3 litres per day. Water lowers blood sugar and its content in urine, and fully hydrates the body “– advises the dietitian.

The problem of gestational diabetes affects 1 in 100 pregnant women. It is a serious disorder caused by excess glucose that requires immediate treatment. However, before the introduction of pharmacotherapy, it is necessary to take care of your diet, properly balanced in terms of quality and quantity, taking into account products with a low GI. Following several principles of nutrition can help protect mum and baby from adverse effects of diabetes.

Iwona Gryszkin, MSc children’s nutritionist

Iwona Gryszkin
Expert bio:

She graduated from the Faculty of Food Sciences of the University of Life Sciences in Wrocław, as well as Dietetic Postgraduate Studies at the Academy of Medical Sciences in Poznań. Since 2005, effectively has been active as a dietitian. She is also an active member of the Board of Lower Silesian Society of Dietetics.

More information about the expert can be found on the following website: