Am I Eating My Way to Gestational Diabetes?


Throughout my last two pregnancies, it was a struggle to eat enough when so many foods repulsed me. This time my nausea has taken a vacation, and suddenly food tastes delicious. As a result, I've started to gain too much weight, too fast. A woman who begins a pregnancy at a normal weight should gain 25 to 35 pounds during the course of her pregnancy, according to the March of Dimes. I have gained almost that much in the last two months alone—and I can't imagine curbing my monster appetite now.

Pregnancy has heightened my senses of smell and taste, and I feel like this is my big chance to eat everything I've always wanted to eat. If I can't have a beer, then I might as well get whipped cream on my hot chocolate, right?

Not so fast. If I keep gaining weight at this impressive clip, I could put the baby and myself in danger. Not only do I risk high blood pressure and varicose veins, but it's possible I could bring on the dreaded gestational diabetes.

Gestational diabetes, which affects 4% of all pregnancies, has no unique symptoms. The main indicators—increased appetite, thirst, and frequent urination—are identical to pregnancy symptoms. Without a lab test, I have no way of knowing if my baby and I are at risk.

This particular type of diabetes strikes when a pregnant woman's pancreas cannot produce enough insulin to maintain safe blood sugar levels. The placenta produces hormones that can make it harder for the body to use insulin, which causes blood glucose levels to spike. In an attempt to lower blood glucose levels, the baby's pancreas will produce more insulin. Babies born with excessive insulin are at higher risk for shoulder damage and breathing problems.

Could I give myself diabetes?
In order to investigate further, I put down my quart of chocolate
peanut butter ice cream and asked Bart Putterman, MD, an OB/GYN at the Methodist Hospital in Houston, my burning question: Could I potentially give myself gestational diabetes?

The short answer is yes.

According to Dr. Putterman, I can control my baseline weight and the amount of weight gained during the pregnancy. "Both of these factors have a significant bearing on the likelihood of becoming diabetic during pregnancy," he says. Sounds simple enough: The more I eat, the more more weight I gain, and the more I increase my risk.

But there is also a genetic connection. "If there is a family history of diabetes, the patient will have an increased risk. This risk is independent of the weight issue, but both are significant risk factors," Dr. Putterman explains. Upon hearing this, I mentally scanned the women in my family and instantly came up with three diabetics closely related to me. Whoops!

Testing for gestational diabetes
As my six-month mark approaches, I'm due for my gestational diabetes screening test. Hormonal changes that predispose women to diabetes are maximized at this point.

It will determine whether my monster appetite and frequent bathroom trips are due to a diabetes-related problem or are an indicator of nothing more than being pregnant.

So my big test is looming, and the procedure is daunting. I will first have blood drawn, and then I will be given a syrupy soda to drink within a minute. (The lab technician actually stands with a watch to make sure you consume it within a minute—a throwback to my college days!)

An hour later, I will have blood drawn again. This way, the lab can check how well my pancreas is holding up under all of these chocolate chip cookies.

If my pancreas fails that test, I'll undergo a three-hour glucose test. If I test positive for the disease, I'll need to make dietary changes (gulp) and take oral hypoglycemics (see more treatment options). The silver lining? Gestational diabetes usually clears up shortly after the baby is born.

As for now, I can't stop thinking about that syrupy soda. It's going to taste delicious!