I have thought about this piece for many months. To begin with, it was an angry rant at the injustice of the diagnosis, the hardship of managing such a condition and how much I wanted a biscuit! But as the months went by, yes it was hard, but I began to see the positive side of my Gestational Diabetes (GD) journey. But I still missed biscuits! (and muslie, and oranges, and cake....)
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I was at high risk for GD, I have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome & i am also over weight. But having escaped the dreaded condition with my first son Noah, I presumed that I would this time round too. Turns out that theory was completely wrong!
After a terrible first trimester of shocking morning sickness, lots of bleeds, being told we had miscarried (that’s a whole other story!) I was sent for the routine Gloucose Tollerance Test (GTT) at 14 weeks. This is torturous, a starved pregnant woman is forced to drink a revolting flat lucozade type drink and have two sets of bloods taken! It’s not fun, but it is important!
I braved it and expected to hear nothing. I can honestly say I was shocked when I received a call the next day from the diabetes team to say that I had failed the glucose test. And I’ll be honest, I was also absolutely mortified. I have always been careful with what I eat, low GI, lots of fruit & vege and I have a no cake or biscuits policy in the house. We avoid surgery cereals, no fruit juice and absolutely no fizzy drinks. So to be told I have diabetes was devastating.
It soon became quite clear that this was not my fault.
I emphasise this because if you have just been diagnosed and you’re trawling the internet for information and reassurance, like I did, then take this as a comfort – IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT!
My placenta was emitting hormones that made my body insulin resistant and all the glucose in my body was running crazy as a result. Yes, I was at a higher risk because of the PCOS and being overweight but after months of weekly visit to diabetes clinics, it became abundantly clear that you can be from any walk of life, any weight, any ethnic background, any shape or size and still get this sh$$ty condition.
The challenge, is how you are going to choose to deal with it. It will be the most important diet you will ever be on.
I was very lucky to have an incredible team of support offered to me at Brighton & Hove Hospital. The GD team were amazing! The journey began with a diet education class and a lesson on how to test my blood sugars. I had a nifty little gadget given to me, which I had to use to test my blood sugar levels before & after every meal. It takes a while to make this part of your routine, but before you know it, it becomes second nature! I was aiming for a pre meal blood sugar of 5 or below and below 7, an hour after eating.
To achieve these levels was hard, I’m not going to lie. It was the hardest, yet most important diet I have ever embarked on. This was not about me shifting a few pounds to fit in a dress, this was about my baby being healthy. I immediately cut out all refined sugar, all sweeteners including honey, agarve nectar etc. They may be natural but they are still pure sugar and effect your blood sugars! Dried fruit was pretty much a no no for me, and most fruit too. I could eat a small apple or a satsuma as one of my snacks, as long as I paired it with a protein! At the beginning I could eat a small banana for a snack by the end I could eat only a quarter! I also avoided any artificial sweeteners as personally, I just don’t trust them, nor have I ever wanted to put them in my body – except one hot summers day when I had a 7up Free – wow that tasted phenomenal after weeks of no sugar!!! That contains Aspartame which doesn’t effect your blood sugars but is pretty nasty stuff!
Pairing became a way of life for me! The protein helps to slow the absorption of the glucose into your blood stream from the carbohydrates, therefore avoiding a spike! So no more vegetarian meals for me! Brown rice, brown pasta, quinoa were all on the menu still, but the portion size had to be weighed and checked every meal and there always had to be a generous portion of protein and green veges on there too! I always kept a cooked chicken in the fridge for snacking on between meals, peanut butter and handfuls of nuts became my best friend, and chunks of cheese with fruit were my between meal snacks.
You can eat as much meat and fish as you can stomach, as this has zero effect on your blood sugar levels. Green vegetables, tomatoes, cucumber, radishes and pretty much all salad veges were winners too. Carbohydrates became a mine field! I couldn’t tolerate any white flour carbs, and the only bread I could go near was Burgen Soya & Linseed which has a very low carb value. No pizza, no root vegetables, no white bread, no cereals, no porridge, no crumpets, no nothing!!!
You probably think this all just sounds like a brilliantly healthy diet, which it was, I lost over a stone in weight – but when you’re pregnant being denied that cheeky cake when you go for coffee with your friends, or even milk in your coffee because you’re not due your snack for another hour (yes, milk too turns into sugar and effects your blood sugar!) it can be very depressing.
A month after my diagnoses, I felt like it was starting to get a grip on all this. I had purchased my Carbs & Cals Book (my bible) and went full on gung ho into it. I was quite adamant I didn’t want to end up on insulin to treat my GD because this would have meant being on a drip during pregnancy and no pool birth which was very important to me. So I did take this diet very seriously. So when, after four weeks, I started getting very high morning readings, and afternoon spikes, despite eating exactly the same as the week before I felt extremely despondent. I sat down at my weekly diabetes clinic and cried in the dietitian’s office. Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t really get stressed or upset about many things in life, but I suddenly felt completely overwhelmed by the entire situation, and I think most women who have a diagnoses as early as me probably feel the same. Realizing that this will completely take over your life for the next 6 months is daunting – but I promise there is cake at the end of the tunnel!
So my lovely dietitian and amazing diabetes nurse got me on to Metformin, a magic little pill which helps your body respond to your own insulin. I needed it, diet alone was no longer enough. And almost immediately I started to see the benefits. Sure I still couldn’t eat anything new but it meant I could tolerate two pieces of bread a lunch, and a hand full of muslie for breakfast!
As the six months went on, it got harder and harder to manage mornings – I ended up on the maximum dose of Metformin and restricted my diet as much as possible! I became physically sick of eggs by about month 4. I invented a muslie I could tolerate, which I could only have with full fat greek yogurt (the fat helps slow down absorption of the glucose) and this became breakfast for the last few months. Or I could have two cheese nain oatcakes with peanut butter – yep that’s breakfast when your pregnant and hungry!
Exercise is really important I discovered. It is amazing to see the difference in your blood sugars if you have exercised, a visible difference in your readings – it’s an eye opener I’m telling you! I unfortunately was limited by terrible ligament pain & SPD towards the end so walking was out for me, but swimming was perfect. I went at least once a week and it felt amazing! I recommend it to all pregnant women weather you have GD or not!
One great advantage to having GD are all the extra scans! I had lots early on because of bleeds, and possibly miscarriages, then the normal 12 weeks and 20 weeks, then 30 weeks, 32 weeks, and 36 weeks. This baby got scanned a total of 9 times!!
At 36 weeks I was booked in for an induction and they wouldn’t let me go past 39 weeks because bubba was getting too big and over the 95th percentile. I felt absolutely gutted. All my hard work, all my diet restrictions had been pointless, it felt like they were all for nothing because he had got big anyway. I beat myself up for allowing myself a mince pie on Christmas day, my diabetes team told me that one mince pie would not have caused it and to not blame myself – my body did this because of the hormones, not one mince pie.
Turns out he wasn’t too big at all, and born naturally at 38 weeks at a respectable 7lbs 5oz and on the 50th percentile! Everything I did worked, the restrictions, the feeling left out at Christmas parties, saying no to a million cups of tea because I couldn’t take the milk, eating only half an apple as a snack, saying no to all the roast potatoes, root vegetables at Sunday lunches – all worth it for a healthy happy baby and a complication free labor!
So, here I am, three months into babyhood again, with my beautiful Fin who is a super smiley, happy, boy and I couldn’t help thinking that I need to make some changes. I have hugely enjoyed eating as much fruit as I like, glasses of milk, cake, biscuits, pizza, all those wonderful things that I was forbidden!!
I am at higher risk than ever now of developing Type 2 Diabetes – and that scares me. I know my diet's not perfect but it is pretty good, as a family we eat a lot of wholegrain foods, fruit & vegetables, but my biggest downfall is exercise. I am a big girl, I'm a size 18 and not in very good shape - So I have decided to make some pretty big changes, because if I don’t I will probably develop diabetes. I could lose limbs or even my eye sight – I do not want that. So, I have pledged to get in shape, get training and as a target, walk the entire South Downs Way in 2018 in aid of Diabetes UK.
So 100 miles over 9 days – can’t be that bad can it?!! Wish me luck!!!
I want to help promote Gestational Diabetes and build awareness of how important it is to get tested and to look after yourself during pregnancy. And also maybe inspire women like me, who are at risk of developing Type 2, to get in shape post baby and avoid another disappointing diagnoses!
So if you would like to support my walk, please pop along to JustGiving and sponsor me! I will need the motivation I assure you! Thank you in advance for your support!
If you would like to learn more about Gestational Diabetes please click HERE to see Dr. Bella Smith's video which will tell you all you need to know about the illness from a medical point of view.