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5 Things to Expect If You Have Gestational Diabetes

Photograph by Twenty20

Pre-pregnancy I ran, lifted weights and maintained a healthy weight, so I didn't anticipate any physical problems or complications once I got pregnant. Fast forward a few months later and a diagnosis of gestational diabetes plunged me into an unfamiliar world. One of monitoring blood sugar levels, planning meals, writing down everything I ate and meeting with a diabetes counselor. At first it was scary, but armed with the knowledge my doctors gave me, I got through it.

So if you're scared going in for the glucose test or if you've just been diagnosed, I'm going to pass on the knowledge that helped me survive pregnancy with gestational diabetes:

1. Yes, it’s serious, but don’t panic.

First, a diagnosis of gestational diabetes isn’t the same as Type I or Type II diabetes. Unlike Type I and Type II, gestational diabetes develops during pregnancy and resolves itself afterwards. In the rare cases that it doesn’t go away, the mom likely had undiagnosed Type I or Type II diabetes pre-pregnancy.

Babies born to mothers who either didn't receive treatment or didn't follow their doctor's guidelines have the risk of being born with "birth trauma, shoulder dystocia (shoulders impacted at delivery), high birth weight and in serious cases—in-utero fetal death," says OB-GYN, Dr. Alixandra Creapeau. The good news is that so much is known about gestational diabetes and how to treat it that if you do follow your Doctor's orders the risks drop significantly.

RELATED: How I Beat Gestational Diabetes

2. You won't necessarily have to give yourself insulin shots

When you’re diagnosed with diabetes, your mind may immediately go to a diabetic in your family and their insulin pump or daily shots. So it's only natural for you to wonder if you'll have to poke yourself with a needle everyday. The good news is... not necessarily.

In many cases gestational diabetes can be controlled through diet and exercise. Dr. Crepeau reassures women who’ve been diagnoses with gestational diabetes that "although all gestational diabetics will need to check their blood sugars frequently, only a small subset will need to start anti-diabetic medication.” Your Doctor will continue to monitor your blood sugar levels and if they remain under acceptable levels, no shots for you!

No one warned me that as the baby grew, so did the stress on my body. A meal that had been "safe" a month into my third trimester sent my blood sugar levels too high a month later.

3. But you will have to monitor your blood sugars.

I’m not a huge fan of needles (is anyone?) so it was a relief to discover that I could take my blood with a small pinprick device. Your Doctor or diabetes counselor will provide you with both the device and the glucose test strips. The American Diabetes Association recommends testing your blood before a meal, one hour after and two hours after. My doctor had me also checking it when I woke up before I ate anything and after every snack. Your care team will establish the schedule that’s right for you. Yes, it's annoying, but it's totally doable.

4. Prepare to get really disciplined about your diet.

As a part of blood sugar monitoring, prepare to measure and track everything you eat. My diabetes counselor gave me a booklet into which I wrote every meal and snack, the time of day I ate it, the amount of carbs I ate and my blood sugar levels an hour after eating.

No one warned me that as the baby grew, so did the stress on my body. A meal that had been "safe" a month into my third trimester sent my blood sugar levels too high a month later. You’re not only going to have to get disciplined about your diet, you’re going to be adjusting it constantly. The constant monitoring gets old, which is why Dr. Crepeau often encourages her patients to “continue to think of it as a short-term situation, just push through to the end.”

RELATED: An Open Letter to the First-Time Mom-to-Be

5. Get ready to to be at the doctor’s more.

A diagnosis of gestational diabetes means that you’re going to be at the doctors a lot more. You’ll be meeting with your diabetes counselor, either bi-weekly or monthly depending on your numbers. In addition, your doctor will schedule more ultrasounds to make sure the fetus isn’t getting too big. Stock up on e-books and warn your boss because by the time you deliver, you’ll be on first name basis with your doctor’s receptionist staff, nurses and the ultrasound technician.

My son was born a healthy six pounds, seven ounces and passed all his blood tests the first day. After delivery, I was tested to make sure that the gestational diabetes had gone away—and it had. Unfortunately, as Dr. Crepeau warned me, “a history of gestational diabetes is linked with the development of Type I and II diabetes, metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular disease later in life,” so I’ve focused on continuing to exercise and eat healthy.

Yes, it’s scary to have any complications with your pregnancy, but gestational diabetes is completely treatable and manageable. And when I held my son for the first time I didn’t regret a single day of that strict diet, a single time pricking my finger to draw blood, or all those doctor’s visits.

It was all worth it.

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