DISCLAIMER: This post details my personal experience with the gestational diabetes test and diagnosis, but does not contain specific health advice. The health information is provided for general informational and educational purposes only, and is not a substitution for professional health advice. Users are encouraged to consult their own medical practitioner, dietician, or other health professional for advice prior to undertaking any diet or exercise program. I am NOT a medical professional, and am only sharing my own personal experience.
My gestational diabetes test
Ah, that lovely Glucola test. Does every pregnant lady dread it as much as I do? Nasty sugar drink! No matter which flavor they give you, it tastes disgusting. So hard not to vomit. This post will cover my experiences with gestational diabetes tests and treatment.
Since I passed it in my first pregnancy, I naively assumed that I would always pass it. ‘Cause that’s how it works, right? Haha. But in my second pregnancy, I got the dreaded call saying I failed the first test (this is the initial screening where you drink a sugary solution called Glucola and get your blood drawn sixty minutes later) and needed to come in for the three-hour test.
I was SO worried about taking that three-hour test. I was afraid I would have gestational diabetes and have an enormous baby (that was pretty much the extent of my knowledge about gestational diabetes!). The three-hour test involves fasting, getting your blood tested four times, and drinking more Glucola. And trying VERY hard not to vomit, because if you do the test results become invalidated!
After using lots of intense willpower to convince myself not to vomit, and distracting myself with various work tasks on my laptop, I managed to make it through the three-hour test. I may or may not have bought myself a cinnamon roll on the way home, because clearly my blood needed more sugar! (Not the wisest food choice I ever made…)
And then it came a few days later- the call no one wants to get. “I’m so sorry. You failed the test.”
SO. MANY. FEELINGS. I probably shouldn’t have been shocked, as I had many risk factors for GD- age, obesity, family history of Type 2 diabetes, PCOS. But somehow, I still thought I wouldn’t get it. So I was shocked, and angry, and had to feel sorry for myself for a few days.
The next few weeks were very confusing. My insurance would not cover a dietitian, so I was referred to an endocrinologist. But the endocrinologist couldn’t see me before the end of my pregnancy. So then I was referred to the same maternal-fetal medicine specialist group I had seen during my twin pregnancy. They were wonderful, but didn’t give me a ton of information. I was prescribed a glucometer and told to watch my carbs and eat whatever didn’t spike my blood sugar.
I vividly remember how childishly frustrated I got the first time I tried to figure out how to turn on that stupid FreeStyle Lite! Now I actually look back with fondness on the times with my FreeStyle Lite. I liked it better than the OneTouch Verio I used in my next pregnancy (thank you insurance for not covering the FreeStyle test strips!).
I did lots of complaining to my friends and family about how unfair it was. I mean, it’s unfair, right? Pregnant ladies need ice cream!
Doing my homework
The best thing I did for myself was to join a Facebook group for women with gestational diabetes. Immediately my news feed was filled with posts about bedtime snacks, questions about insulin, and meal ideas. I learned about Halo Top and the “Snickers ice cream bar trick.” The running joke was about how many eggs we were all eating. There was a lot of discussion about pairing proteins with carbs (one woman in the group said something to the effect of, “Let me get this straight…if I want a cookie, I have to eat a cow?”)
I learned that it is hard for many women to get accurate information about gestational diabetes, and that many of the standard nutritional guidelines for gestational diabetes are outdated. Lily Nichols talks about this in her book “Real Food for Gestational Diabetes.” Actually, according to Lily, there is very little research to support the current recommendations for carbohydrate intake during pregnancy (read more about that here: https://lilynicholsrdn.com/correcting-outdated-prenatal-nutrition-advice/). And there is research to support that it is safe to eat a low-carb diet during pregnancy: http://www.lowcarbdietitian.com/blog/guest-blog-post-is-it-safe-to-go-low-carb-during-pregnancy.
For my review of Lily Nichols’ book check out this post.
There was also a lot of discussion in the group about what to expect in treatment, and what to think of it all. Non-stress tests and ultrasounds. Debates about insulin vs. metformin. Inductions and the risk of shoulder dystocia. So scary! But somehow, it seems less scary when you have a group of strangers online who are all going through the same thing and talking about it with you. Weird, I know. But it worked.
There were some heartbreaking stories, too. Doctors and nurses making insensitive comments along the lines of “if you eat that pizza you’ll kill your baby.” Unsupportive husbands/boyfriends/partners. Family members trying to be “helpful” by making the wrong kind of food and pressuring others to eat it. (Wow, people really need to learn that the ONLY things you should say to a pregnant woman are, “You look amazing!” and “What do you need right now?” I feel like there is a BuzzFeed article on that…? If not there should be!)
Managing my diet
I started creating some habits and routines around food. Breakfast was often a protein bar/shake, or eggs with spinach and cauliflower. Lunch was usually a leftover protein/veggie combination from the night before. For dinners, I ate a lot of grilled meats that my hubby made for me in advance, and some frozen meals (usually Jimmy Dean’s or premade hamburgers) when I was in a hurry. I ate Greek yogurt, cheese and nuts for snacks, and paired small amounts of fruit with protein (i.e. apple slices with peanut butter).
For more meal and snack ideas check out these posts: my favorite foods for summer with gestational diabetes; Greek yogurt; and low-carb substitutes for bread and pasta.
I was very fortunate in that I did not need insulin to control my numbers. For many women with GD, insulin is needed at some point. I did, however, need to check my blood sugar levels four times a day. I found that my numbers were typically more difficult to control in the morning, so I needed to be extra careful with carbs at breakfast. I could sometimes get away with a small treat or dessert, but only in the afternoon or evening.
A bonus of this change in my diet was that I lost some weight, even while pregnant. (I was overweight before getting pregnant, so losing a little bit was not unhealthy for me.)
Delivery and aftermath
As far as the actual delivery goes, gestational diabetes tends to complicate things a bit, as we all know. My doctor induced me at 40 weeks and 1 day. Due to the increased risks that come with gestational diabetes, she didn’t feel comfortable with me going past my due date. It was a VERY long eighteen hours! Two hours of pushing and a sweet baby girl with a big head. She was incredibly active and alert from the get-go. We like to say it was because of all the extra protein I fed her, but who really knows, right? 😉
I was monitored for several months afterward and struggled to get my blood sugar under control. I have since learned that for some women, it can take a few months postpartum for things to go back to normal. My baby was born in October and I definitely complained a lot about being deprived of treats at Christmas! But eventually, I was tested again and given the all-clear. I was told I needed an annual A1C test for the rest of my life, and that I needed to continue watching my diet and exercise.
I have a 50% chance of developing type 2 diabetes at some point in my life according to CDC research. I thought I was sufficiently scared of type 2 diabetes and then I read Sherri Shepherd’s book, Plan D. She describes large groups of family members losing eyesight and getting feet or toes amputated.
The odds of getting GD in a subsequent pregnancy are also high. I did go on to have a second sugar baby, a boy this time, who weighed almost 9 pounds. I took metformin during that pregnancy to help me manage my blood sugar levels. I had a scary bout with the stomach flu that almost put me in the hospital. Toward the end of my pregnancy my blood sugar levels suddenly became easier to manage for a short time. I have since learned that this can happen due to hormone fluctuations at the end of pregnancy, and can also be a sign of the placenta beginning to give out. Fortunately, in my case, the ultrasound showed that the baby was continuing to grow (a lot!), so the placenta clearly was not failing. (Check out this video by Jessica Pumple for more info on this topic: https://youtu.be/OnULS-39Z6A)
So, what is the takeaway? What did I learn from all this that I hope to pass on to others? A lot of things (hence the decision to start blogging about it!), but I wanted to highlight just a few of them here.
What I learned
First, I learned that for this particular condition, information can be hard to come by. It can be difficult to get updated and complete information from your care providers. You can educate yourself by reading online, checking out books like Lily Nichols’ Real Food for Gestational Diabetes, and talking to other women who have been there. I recommend joining an online support group; there are lots of GD groups on Facebook.
I learned that there are hidden carbs and added sugars in SO MANY foods, and it’s easy to think you are eating healthier than you are. For more info on this, check out Dr. Robert Lustig’s lecture “Sugar: The Bitter Truth” .
I have learned that in order for me to maintain my health, I need to be very careful with carbs- even the healthier ones from fruit and whole grains. And when you limit your carbs, you need proteins and fats in your diet to help you feel full. This often doesn’t make sense to others. That’s understandable since it goes against what most of us have always been taught. Many of us are still stuck on the conventional food pyramid and the 1980’s fear of fat (anyone else eat margarine growing up?). I have pretty much learned to expect weird looks from people when they see the way I eat.
I have also learned to stop expecting perfection and be happy with effort. Would I be healthier if I ate perfectly every day and lived at the gym? Of course. But eating healthy probably 80-90% of the time, and incorporating some movement and moderate exercise into my day several days a week, is more realistic for me AND is better than doing nothing at all.
I have continued to work on my health, by eating low-carb and exercising 2-3 days a week. I feel SO much better than I used to. Since I minimize my carbs and eat more filling foods (proteins, fiber and healthy fats), I don’t crave sugary junk nearly as much as I used to. I occasionally take a bite of one of my kids’ brownies, think “okay, that’s nice,” and call it good. (The old me would NEVER have been able to put a brownie down after only one bite!) I have more energy and mental clarity. I feel GREAT! And I feel excited for the future.
I hope to pass on some of what I learned in hopes that it might be helpful to someone. Please explore the blog for more information and meal ideas.
What was your GD experience like? What was your experience with the Glucola test? Please share in the comments!
Further reading on the Glucola test
Lily Nichols’ blog post on Glucola