My first pregnancy wasn’t an easy one — it started out with a threatened miscarriage, followed by months of paranoia that the baby won’t stick.
As a result, I spent most of my pregnancy being exceptionally careful in terms of what I did, where I went, and what I ate (no half-cooked meats, no fish with high mercury levels, no raw eggs, no raw fish).
By the time I finally got used to the idea that the pregnancy was going fine, there was another bombshell: I had gestational diabetes.
I was about 34-weeks pregnant, and had just had a baby shower filled with the prettiest cupcakes and sweets in celebration of my little girl. However, a routine checkup at the gynaecologist revealed that a) the baby was on the big side, and b) there were traces of sugar in my urine samples. I was promptly sent for a glucose tolerance test and was given the devastating news.
The next few days went by in a blur. I had a flurry of appointments with an endocrinologist, the sugar testing kit became my best friend (I was told to test six times a day) and drastically changed my diet. I was told that if I could keep the sugar levels under control, I would not need to take insulin jabs. I was extremely stressed to say the least.
I was lucky. I have a fair amount of self-control, so I managed to keep those sugar numbers down and for the remainder of my pregnancy, only needed to watch my diet.
But I will admit, it was hard. In the beginning, I cut out almost all the carbohydrates I was eating (save for a small amount of complex carbs here and there), removed lactose-based products from the equation and avoided sugar like the plague (I didn’t even eat a single pineapple tart over Chinese New Year).
I spent a fortune on low-sugar, low-GI produce at Supernature and pretty much ate the same thing every day. It was a variation on a theme of a low-sugar, low-fat diet: a high fibre cracker or wholemeal toast with peanut butter (the kind where no sugar is added) for breakfast, soup with meat and vegetables for lunch, and some form of protein with three tablespoons of brown rice for dinner.
As a result, my sugar levels were low but — and there’s always a but isn’t there — they were too low and I was told to relax a little and introduce more carbs into my diet (the battle just never ends huh?).
I soon realised my body could take a lot more sugar than I expected and that consuming fat really made no difference to my sugar levels whatsoever. I had avoided fatty meats such as roast pork belly but hey, my sugar levels were perfectly ok after eating a few slices. I then realised that a low-sugar, high-fat diet was fine (hello bone marrow!) and was a little bit less ‘depressed’.
Thankfully, I only had to ‘suffer’ through this for roughly three weeks. My daughter decided to enter the world early and the ordeal — as I had come to view it as — was over.
But there were a few things that I had learnt from the experience that I still find very useful till today. I hope that if you find yourself with gestational diabetes, you’ll find the following helpful:
- Knowledge is king: Regular testing of sugar levels give you very clear indications of what your body can or cannot take. Because I was so prodigious with my testing, through trial and error, I found out that I could still enjoy most of my favourite foods so long as I consumed sugar in moderation. Embarking on a low-sugar, high-fat diet worked for me and I continue to do so today. I don’t profess that it would work for everyone but it definitely helped me to keep the weight off in my post-partum days.
- Keep a food diary: Because I kept a food diary, I now know what foods I can, or cannot eat, and roughly how much sugar my body can take. This has been exceptionally useful now that I’m expecting a second child. As a side tip: I try to always keep some almonds on hand to snack on when I feel hungry.
- Walking helps: One thing I’ve learnt is that walking for 20 to 30 minutes after a meal really burns the sugar off. If you’re pregnant with gestational diabetes and you find that you ate more rice or cake than you ideally should have, take a nice, long walk as that really helps to push the numbers down.
- For future reference: Most women who have gestational diabetes will recover once the baby is born but they are also predisposed to diabetes later in life. While this may sound like bad news, if you think about it, having this knowledge means that you’ll be more careful moving forward, and that you’ll take steps to embark on a healthier lifestyle — that’s no bad thing.
- It’s really not that bad: Once you find out what your body can or cannot handle, you’ll realise that gestational diabetes is really very manageable. As a bonus, the diet means that you won’t put on too much pregnancy weight so there’s less to lose when the baby is born. Now, how’s that for a silver lining?