The American Diabetes Association recommends women have a blood sugar reading below 95 after fasting and below 120 two hours after a meal. However, Ceretti says there’s significant research that shows the best fasting numbers for diabetic moms-to-be are between 60 and 90, and she looks for her patients’ blood sugar levels to read lower than 120 just one hour after a meal.
“Keeping these numbers within a healthy range has been proven to significantly decrease risks to mother and baby,” she says.
A standard protocol
The first option for women to control blood sugars is through a strict high- protein, low-carb diet coupled with routine exercise.
“Timing is everything. It’s important to get on a good schedule,” Ceretti says. “Women with gestational diabetes should be eating balanced meals and snacks every three to four hours during the day. They should also be watching their lifestyle—how often they’re exercising and hydrating.”
But it’s not just a matter of eating right and staying active. “Stress levels, hormones, sleep habits and hydration can also impact blood sugar levels,” adds Ceretti, who reviews her patients’ blood sugar logs and notes any spikes or abnormal peaks on a weekly basis.
An alternative route
If blood sugars can’t be controlled through diligent diet and exercise, it’s not necessarily a mom-to-be’s fault.
“Every woman is different. Some may be genetically predisposed to insulin resistance while others aren’t prioritizing a healthy lifestyle, but sometimes the hormones in the placenta just make it more difficult for the body to work the way it should,” Ceretti explains. “And in those cases—where diet and lifestyle changes can’t control blood sugars—I’ll prescribe medication to keep those blood sugars in a healthy range.”
While many women aren’t thrilled to rely on medication to help manage their blood sugars, Ceretti says it’s safe for the baby, and it’s worth it. “I always tell women regardless of whether they’re diet- controlled or dependent on medication that they shouldn’t feel guilty. It’s not their fault,” she said. “At the same time, if they do have poor choices surrounding their diet and lifestyle, now is a good time to change them.”
A long-term impact
A postpartum glucose test usually happens between 6 and 12 weeks after birth. While most women’s blood sugars go back to normal after delivery, a gestational diabetes diagnosis is one of the most predictive factors of developing diabetes later in life.
“Patients should try to look at their diagnosis as an early warning sign that their bodies may be prone to difficulty processing sugar and carbs,” notes Beenken.
According to Beenken, 50 percent of women diagnosed with gestational diabetes will develop diabetes 22 to 28 years after pregnancy—that percentage is even higher for Latina women. “That’s why it’s good to look at a gestational diabetes diagnosis as an important risk factor for women that will hopefully lead to lifelong vigilance and adherence to a healthy way of life,” she says.
A silver lining
While gestational diabetes isn’t something I’d wish upon anyone, my diagnosis has caused me to think twice before reaching into the cookie jar. It’s forced me to choose healthier foods and maintain an active lifestyle, not just for me but for the baby who is depending on me to make good choices.