How it Feels: Gestational Diabetes (GD)

Jo used to work with Sam, and they were due within weeks of each other. Having someone to chat all things pregnancy with was brilliant, but Sam had the added hurdle of managing Gestational Diabetes – something neither of them had much awareness of prior to pregnancy. Here, Sam writes frankly about her experience and how she turned it into a positive experience.

Over to Sam…

‘I remember receiving the letter outlining the dates and information regarding attending a blood sugar test to find out if I had Gestational Diabetes as if it were yesterday. I’d barely even heard of it before and the first thing to go through my head was ‘is my baby in danger?’; the second was ‘is it because I’m fat’. When my letter arrived I hadn’t understood that I was being referred for a blood sugar test and I spent the next month feeling decidedly worried about it. I was later to find out that it was simply a family history of diabetes that led to the referral. However, having come through the experience of high blood sugar levels and testing positively for GD, I can now say it really wasn’t a bad thing! Certainly not as scary as I expected.

The day of the dreaded glucose test was pretty unpleasant. As someone who suffered from bad morning sickness, necking a bottle of Lucozade was not pleasant, nor were the repeated blood tests, one before and one after. But that was as bad as it got. My top tip is to take a good book, charge your Kindle, or download your favourite series to your phone and take your headphones. You will be there for a while, but if you treat it as a time to relax it really is a positive.

The two day wait to find out the results was a killer, I’d thought I’d escaped a diagnosis (they say no news is good news) after waiting longer than usual. But, sure enough, I got a phone call asking me to go and see the diabetes midwife as soon as possible, which I promptly did. I remember feeling super daunted, having seen diabetic family members using complicated blood sugar testers, but the one she gave me really wasn’t too bad, or oppressive. She was so reassuring and having her there as an extra branch of support was fantastic. No question was ever too small for her and I can say she transformed my experience of pregnancy. She pointed out the importance of exercise, so I got up from the sofa and out walking. I actually found that I lost weight being pregnant.

I now see the dreaded GD as a positive, it gave me a renewed sense of the importance of a healthy diet. Consequently, I was able to maintain a diet-only monitored diagnosis meaning I could go to full term in my pregnancy. As my consultant quickly explained, if I stayed diet-only I would be induced at 40 weeks, whereas if I was put on Metformin, it would be 38 weeks and, if I was put on insulin it would be 36 weeks. My advice is commit to it if AT ALL possible. Vegetables, meat and salad were crucial. The Hairy Dieters made it all possible for me (not a sentence I ever thought I’d say in reference to pregnancy!), mostly because I get so bored of salad, but in the end I found myself in a really good position for the next stage of my journey: being a mummy.

My advice to anyone in the same situation is to try to look at the silver linings. It was so hard giving up cake and other sweet things, but remember the occasional treat wont do any harm and there are plenty of diabetic recipes out there. Xylitol sugar substitute proved a life saver for me and allowed me to make a lemon cake that curbed a few cravings. But, in return, you get to see your little bubba so many more times along your journey, due to the additional scans. I wish I’d had the benefit at the time of seeing how good it would be for me in the long term. It has, undoubtedly, made our whole family more healthy, more aware and informed a lot of our parenting choices.

I do wish I’d been more informed, though…

I only found out too late on in the pregnancy about the benefits of prenatally expressing colostrum. I wish I’d known about this as it may have helped avoid us falling into the early ‘top up trap’, where we had to use formula rather than sticking to my intention to exclusively breastfeed from birth. Whilst we did manage to do this after a while, it took a lot of time and energy to build my supply up. This article from the La Leche League is brilliantly informative. There is also evidence to suggest that, if a woman has GD, breastfeeding lowers the risks of diabetes for her (Type 2) AND for the baby (Types 1 and 2) so it really is crucial to have support in place before birth.

Furthermore, find out about the implications for getting an early sweep if this is what you wish to do. I was desperate to have it, as anything to avoid the induction I faced was preferable. However, early sweeps can be hard to come by and require your consultant’s sign off so it’s worth thinking ahead at that last consultant appointment.

Remember that the key to a good experience with GD is to ask questions. Your midwife and diabetic midwife are there to help and want to do just that.

It is worth bearing in mind that my experience may have been very different to lots. From reading up on it, there seem to be a lot of people who end up taking Metformin because they aren’t given the information I was. But, equally, I think there is a lot more opportunity to keep things more natural than I did. I took a lot of what the doctors said as testament and didn’t ever feel able to question them. Looking into it now, it seems there may be more wiggle room than I ever realised.

My three biggest pieces of advice are to research, research, research, ask questions, and know your rights.’

The following resources are very helpful:

GestationalDiabetesUK (I WISH I’d found this when I was pregnant!). This page in particular, about home and/or water births, is very interesting. (The doctors were prepared to allow me a water birth because I was so adamant that I wanted one. It was other complications that prevented it on the day. It was never something that I was declined as an option but it only entered the equation because I explicitly asked for permission to be put into my notes.)
– For knowing your rights in pregnancy and labour, Birthrights

– The NICE guidelines on GD and its management are excellent.

These Facebook groups help you feel less alone if you discover you have GD:
Gestational Diabetes UK Mums

And here are two cake recipes that I found really helpful in curbing my cravings!
Sugar-free Lemon Drizzle Cake
– Carrot Cake (minus the sultanas)

Sam, writing for The Mother Side x


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