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Keeping gestational diabetes in check

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Tis the season for pregnant women to cry in my office. Most are happy to be pregnant, yet fearful about the tidings that they have gestational diabetes - abnormal levels of glucose (blood sugar) first identified during pregnancy.

When mom's blood sugars get too high during pregnancy, her body shuttles it to baby, who has no choice but to store it as fat. At birth, these infants can weigh 9 pounds or more, making them more apt to become obese and to develop type 2 diabetes later in life.

Fear not. Besides the fact that Christmas cookies may be off the wish list, most women can control gestational diabetes and have healthy bouncing babies of normal weight. Here's how:

-Don't blame yourself. Gestational diabetes is not caused by overdosing on candy canes. Rather, it's a condition aggravated by the changing hormones of pregnancy.

-Consult with a registered dietitian. You'll need a wise man (or woman) to guide you through the intricacies of counting carbohydrates and spacing meals.

-Deck the halls with small meals and snacks. Pregnancy requires the same nutrients whether you have gestational diabetes or not. Just not in big doses.

-Control carbohydrates. Sugars and starches in fruit, bread, pasta and figgy pudding are the main culprits of high blood sugars if you eat too much at one time. Each of these foods contains about 15 grams of carbohydrate: one small apple, orange or pear, 8 ounces of milk, one slice of bread, one-third cup of pasta or rice. Most women with gestational diabetes need to aim for not more than 30 to 45 grams of carbohydrates per meal or snack.

-Gain weight slowly. If you started your pregnancy at a normal weight, expect to gain 25 to 35 pounds throughout your pregnancy. Overweight women need to gain less. And try not to pack on the whole 25 pounds during the last two weeks of December.

-Eat your vegetables. Broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes and other vegetables are very low in carbohydrates and provide much-needed nutrients for pregnancy.

-Pass the nuts, please. Protein foods such as nuts and low fat cheese give growing babies a nutritional punch and do not raise blood sugar levels.

-Test those blood sugars. Most women with gestational diabetes need to check their blood glucose levels four or more times a day throughout their pregnancy. Tight blood sugar control is the key to a happy birth day.

-Take a walk. Unless your doctor advises against it, exercise helps keep blood sugar levels normal. No sit-ups, please.

-Follow-up post-partum. Six weeks or more after your little one has entered the world, start nagging your doctor to order a blood glucose test. It's the only way to know if the diabetes you had during pregnancy went away.

-Plan future pregnancies carefully. Women with a history of gestational diabetes are at increased risk of having diabetes in the future.


(Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and diabetes educator at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. E-mail her at bquinn(AT)


(c) 2005, The Monterey County Herald (Monterey, Calif.). Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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