Wednesday, 10 January 2018

How Gestational Diabetes saved my health.

It's something you never want to hear
you've got when you're pregnant; Gestational Diabetes. But for many pregnant women, it's something they must deal with. I was one of those women in my last pregnancy. I successfully passed my first Glucose Tolerance Test (GTT) at 16 weeks but unfortunately luck abandoned me during my 28 week GTT. I left the hospital feeling so positive that I'd pass with flying colours and then hours later I received the dreaded phone call; I'd failed.

What is a Glucose Tolerance Test (GTT)? 

Well it's 2 blood tests completed at separate times to determine the glucose levels in your blood stream. First you must fast for 12 hours before the first bloods are taken. You'll then be given a glucose based drink to consume within 10 minutes. You must then sit and wait for 2 hours before your second blood test. You're not allowed to eat or drink anything during this time. In order to pass the GTT the glucose levels from the first blood test has to be 5.5 or less and 7.8 or less from the second blood test. Mine were 5.7 and 10.5! Way over.

Naturally I was angry and disappointed in myself. I felt like I had failed my unborn son because the gestational diabetes would effect him more than me.


How does Gestational Diabetes (GD) effect your unborn baby?

GD is when your body stop producing
enough insulin to regulate your blood sugar levels, leaving you with high blood sugar. The extra sugar passes through the umbilical cord to baby who then uses their own insulin to regulate sugar levels. Whilst this is handy for you, it does mean that baby ends up growing bigger and bigger depending on how much sugar passes through to them. Very large babies -for example, weighing over 9lbs are more at risk of sustaining injuries during birth, becoming stuck in the birth canal or needing a c-section. High blood sugar levels in the mother can also result in early labour, potentially birthing baby before his/her lungs have fully matured. Babies may also be born with low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia). Severe hypoglycemia can cause seizures in the baby. Flynn was born with hypoglycemia but quick feedings and extra feedings of formula from a cup ensured his sugar levels normalised within 24 hours. If babies blood sugar levels don't normalise after regular feedings, they may end up on the neo-natal unit for treatment.

So how did Gestational Diabetes save your health?

Well to be honest, at first I thought it had ruined my life. Until I got accustomed to it. See there are 3 ways to treat GD. First is with a strict diet that cuts out sugar. Second is with medication and third is with insulin injections in the stomach. Everyone with GD starts on the diet and only moves onto medication or injections if they cannot maintain their sugar levels through diet alone. Thankfully I could. The first couple of weeks were horrible. I have a serious sweet tooth so I really struggled to adjust. I wasn't allowed sugary cereals (which is most of them). I couldn't have white bread. I had to use sweeteners in my tea instead of sugar. And no chocolate! That was by far the worst of them. Chocolate is my one vice. It's my go to when I'm feeling emotional and when you're pregnant, you're emotional A LOT. The diet isn't only about severely cutting down on the sugar, it's also about increasing your consumption of vegetables as well proteins and good carbohydrates. 

So for 10 weeks I mostly lived off chicken, potato, vegetables and wholemeal bread. A typical day looked like this:

Breakfast: 2 slices of low sugar, high protein peanut butter on wholemeal toast.
Snack: Piece of fruit.
Lunch: 1 egg, scrambled on wholemeal toast
Snack: Handful of cashew nuts
Dinner: Chicken, mash sweet potato, vegetables
Snack: Cheese and crackers

It wasn't the most exciting of diets, I'll be honest but it kept my blood sugar levels down and kept me from needing medication or insulin injections. Now that I've had Flynn, my GD has gone and my body is producing the right amount of insulin. So I've started consuming sugar again. Hello chocolate! But I did learn from the experience. I was so determined to eat right to keep my unborn son healthy and safe that the chances to my diet have stuck. Some things admittedly have come back, like the chocolate, cereals (I love crunchy nut cornflakes) and glasses of fruit juice with toast but the changes I made have mostly stayed. I lost the desire to eat white bread and actually want to continue with wholemeal bread instead. Peanut butter on wholemeal toast or vegemite on wholemeal toast has become my regular, go to breakfast now. I eat a lot more fruit and vegetables than I used to and actually find myself craving fruit more often. I don't see the point in adding sugar to my tea or coffee anymore as the sweeteners work just as well. If it made financial sense, I'd even still be drinking lactose free milk. But at £1.40 for a 1L carton and 3 people drinking it, it ends up being very expensive.

Before the gestational diabetes, these simple little changes seemed horrible to me. I liked to eat my junk foods and loved sugar! Yes, I do still love sugar but I don't feel controlled by it anymore. Having GD forced me to eat clean and healthy and because I had to keep to my strict diet for almost 11 weeks, it became a habit. A habit I wasn't able to form in the past. For the first time in years, I finally feel as though I'm eating properly again. Once 6 weeks have passed from my c-section, I'll be back exercising too and hopefully the combination of the diet change and the exercise (along with the breastfeeding) will result in the weight slowly falling off me. Lowering my weight/bmi will dramatically reduce my risk of developing type 2 diabetes later on in life. Something I really want to avoid! 

So whilst it seemed like the end of the
world at the time, I'm actually really grateful I went through it. I think it was the best thing to happen to my health. Not whilst I was pregnant obviously but now. It gave me that kick, that determination, that discipline to make better choices and helped me to stick to them. I feel incredibly optimistic about the future and I believe the GD helped with that. 

So to all pregnant women out there who may be suffering with Gestational Diabetes, I know first hand how horrible it can seem at the time but believe me, it can make you a healthier person. Good things can come from it so just hang in there. If you are experiencing GD currently or have had it in the past, drop a comment below with how you managed it and what impact it had on your life after baby was born. I'd love to read other people's experiences.

Until next time,
Alli xo

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