Gestational diabetes is a condition characterized by high blood glucose levels discovered
during pregnancy. Gestational diabetes is the result of hormonal changes that occur in all
women during pregnancy. Increased levels of certain hormones made in the placenta (the
organ that connects the baby by the umbilical cord to the uterus and transfers nutrients from
the mother to the baby) interfere with the ability of insulin to manage glucose. This condition
is called “insulin resistance.” As the placenta grows larger during pregnancy, it produces
more hormones and increases this insulin resistance. Usually the mother’s pancreas is able to
produce more insulin (about three times the normal amount) to overcome the insulin
resistance. If the pancreas cannot produce enough insulin to overcome the effect of the
increased hormones during pregnancy, glucose levels will rise, resulting in gestational
High blood glucose levels that are not treated during pregnancy can cause problems for you
and your baby. Gestational diabetes does not cause your baby to have diabetes. However, if
left untreated, gestational diabetes can cause your baby to produce too much insulin and gain
too much weight, increasing the risk of premature delivery.
Usually, blood glucose levels return to normal after childbirth. However, women who have
had gestational diabetes have an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life.
Diabetes and carbohydrates
Carbohydrates (foods high in starch and sugar) have the greatest impact on blood glucose
levels, since they are broken down into glucose during digestion. It is important to control the
amount of carbohydrate by eating the same amount of carbohydrate along with some protein
and fat at each meal.
Goals for healthy eating
- Eat three small meals and two or three snacks at regular times every day. Do not
skip meals or snacks.
- Eat less carbohydrate at breakfast than at other meals because this is when insulin
resistance is the greatest.
- Try to eat a consistent amount of carbohydrate during each meal and snack.
- If you have morning sickness, eat 1-2 servings of crackers, cereal or pretzels before
getting out of bed; eat small, frequent meals throughout the day and avoid fatty, fried
and greasy foods. If you take insulin and have morning sickness, make sure you know
how to treat low blood glucose.
- Choose foods high in fiber such as whole-grain breads, cereals, pasta, rice, fruits and
- Eat foods with less sugar and fat.
- Drink at least 8 cups (or 64 ounces) of liquids per day.
- Make sure you are getting enough vitamins and minerals in your daily diet. Ask
your health care provider about taking a prenatal vitamin and mineral supplement to
meet the nutritional needs of your pregnancy.
Here are some other guidelines:
Eat and drink at least 4 servings of dairy products and calcium-rich foods a day to help
ensure that you are getting 1200 mg. of calcium in your daily diet. Sources of calcium include
dairy products, some nuts, green vegetables and foods and beverages fortified with calcium,
such as calcium-fortified, unsweetened ready-to-eat cereals.
Eat at least three servings of iron-rich foods per day to ensure you are getting 30 mg. of
iron in your daily diet. Sources of iron include enriched grain products (rice); lean meat,
poultry and fish; eggs and leafy green vegetables.
Choose at least one source of Vitamin C every day. Sources of Vitamin C include oranges,
grapefruits, strawberries, honeydew, broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, green peppers,
tomatoes and mustard greens.
Choose at least one source of folic acid every day. Sources include dark green leafy
vegetables, veal, fortified grain products, legumes (lima beans, black beans, black-eyed peas
and chickpeas) and fruits.
Choose at least one source of Vitamin A every other day. Sources rich in Vitamin A
include carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes, spinach, water squash, turnip greens, beet greens,
apricots and cantaloupe.
- Avoid alcoholic beverages during pregnancy. Alcohol has been linked to premature
delivery and low birth weight babies. If you think you may have a problem with
alcohol use, please talk to your health care provider so he or she can help protect you
and your baby.
- Limit caffeine to no more than 300 mg. per day (two 8-ounce cups of coffee, three
8-ounce cups of tea or three 12-ounce glasses of caffeinated soda). Remember,
chocolate contains caffeine — the amount of caffeine in a chocolate bar is equal to 1/4
cup of coffee.
- DO NOT DIET or try to lose weight during pregnancy — both you and your baby
need the proper nutrients in order to be healthy. Ask your health care provider how
much weight you should gain during pregnancy. A woman of average weight before
pregnancy can expect to gain 25 to 35 pounds during pregnancy. You may need to
gain more or less weight, depending on what your health care provider recommends.
- Eat a variety of foods to get all the nutrients you need. The Food Guide Pyramid on
the next page provides an example of the number of servings you should eat from
each food group every day.
- The use of non-nutritive or artificial sweeteners approved by the Food and Drug
Administration is acceptable during pregnancy. These FDA-approved sweeteners
include aspartame and acesulfame-K. The use of saccharin is strongly discouraged
during pregnancy because it can cross the placenta and may remain in fetal tissues.
Talk with your health care provider about how much non-nutritive sweetener is
acceptable during pregnancy.