Gestational diabetes and how proper nutrition can help

A balanced, nutritious diet is important in any pregnancy, but healthy food choices are even more critical if you are at risk for, or have been diagnosed with, gestational diabetes.

What is gestational diabetes?

Gestational diabetes occurs when a woman’s blood sugar or glucose levels become too high while she is pregnant. During pregnancy, hormones in your body increase significantly and can interfere with your body’s production of insulin, which controls the levels of sugar in your blood.

Approximately 3% to 8% of women develop gestational diabetes.1 It usually appears in the second half of pregnancy and is detected by a blood test between weeks 24 and 28.

While gestational diabetes usually goes away after delivery, having it during pregnancy increases the risk for developing diabetes later. It is important that you are monitored by your physician to ensure ongoing health for you and your baby, and to avoid complications.

Who is at risk for gestational diabetes?

The risk of developing gestational diabetes increases if you:

  • Are older than 25 or overweight prior to pregnancy
  • Have a family history of diabetes
  • Show sugar (glucose) in your urine during regular prenatal checkups
  • Have high blood pressure or too much amniotic fluid
  • Previously delivered a baby weighing more than 9 pounds; had gestational diabetes; or had an unexplained miscarriage, stillbirth, or birth defect in a previous pregnancy

Is gestational diabetes dangerous to your baby?

Most women who have gestational diabetes give birth to healthy babies, especially if they control their blood sugar, eat a healthy diet, exercise, and maintain a healthy weight. However, diabetes during pregnancy does place your baby at risk for:

  • Large birth weight, which can lead to a cesarean section or difficult delivery
  • Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) after birth
  • Jaundice
  • Respiratory distress syndrome
  • Increased chance of obesity or type 2 diabetes later in life

Gestational diabetes diets: using nutrition to counter diabetes

Fortunately, a good diet with controlled carbohydrates and moderate fat and protein can help control symptoms of diabetes and regulate blood sugar. During gestational diabetes, blood glucose is controlled with a combination of tools, including a meal plan, a physical-activity plan, and insulin (if needed). Because food helps control gestational diabetes, ask your doctor for a consult with a registered dietitian to develop an eating plan. A meal plan can help you maintain optimal blood sugar levels while you are still getting the vital nutrients your body needs.

Here are a few additional tips to help manage gestational diabetes:

  • Establish a regular eating schedule with three moderate meals and planned snacks throughout the day.
  • Monitor blood sugar levels according to your doctor's advice.
  • Limit excessive sugars by following your meal plan with regard to foods such as desserts and fruit juices.
  • Get enough fiber. The fiber in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes can help control levels of sugar in the blood.
  • Maintain a healthy weight, gaining only the recommended amount during pregnancy. Learn more about healthy pregnancy weight gain.
  • Stay active with moderate exercise with your doctor's approval.
  • Continue eating healthy after pregnancy. Women who develop gestational diabetes are at a higher risk for diabetes after pregnancy, which makes it absolutely essential to eat healthy even after delivery.

1NIH: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases


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