Gestational Diabetes, Explained, by Registered Dietician Tammy Kacev

Most of us know about and are aware of Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes. There is third type though; gestational diabetes which isn’t as well known, but it seems to becoming more prevalent.Gestational Diabetes (GD) occurs in almost 10% of Australian pregnant women. GD is diabetes that occurs in pregnant women. Meaning, you can only get GD if you are pregnant. You can develop GD even if you were not diabetic prior to falling pregnant, or perhaps you had an undiagnosed case of diabetes prior to falling pregnant, that presents worse once pregnant.

So we know that the main hormone related to diabetes is insulin. Insulin breaks the foods we consume, into glucose. We then use this glucose for energy. However, when we are pregnant we become more resistant to the hormone insulin. This is a natural change that happens in all pregnancies, to help mum’s to be provide their babies with more glucose. However, if a pregnant lady either stops responding appropriately to the insulin, or does not make enough insulin to help create the glucose that is needed, the result may be too much sugar in your bloodstream, causing GD.

When a woman first finds out she is pregnant, her doctor will usually test her sugar levels. These sugar levels are then tested again when a woman is about 28 weeks pregnant. If your results come back showing that you have GD, maintaining a healthy and well-balanced diet is crucial to help manage your sugar levels.

What foods should you eat if you have Gestational Diabetes?

1. Make sure you are eating enough protein. Having some protein with every meal is recommended.

2. Include a variety of different fruits and vegetables in your diet every day.

3. Make sure you are swapping out simple carbohydrates for complete carbohydrates.

4. At least one third of the foods you consume should be made up of good fats.

5. Try reduce and avoid excessive amounts of processed foods.

If you develop GD, speak to your doctor or get in contact with a registered dietitian or nutritionist to help you come up with an appropriate eating plan.

Why is Gestational Diabetes so bad?

GD can cause harm to both you and your unborn baby. The main consequence of having extra glucose in your blood is that it can affect the weight and growth of your baby. Having extra glucose in your body can cause your unborn baby to gain more weight, resulting in an excessive birth weight. GD can also increase the likelihood of your baby being born premature. A baby born to a mother who had GD may be at an increased risk of having low blood sugar when born, and may have a higher risk of developing obesity and type 2 diabetes later in life.

GD also poses risk to mum herself. Having a bigger baby increases your risk for having complications at delivery. There is also a positive correlation between GD and an increased risk of high blood pressure and pre-eclampsia for the mum to be, during pregnancy. Also having GD in your current pregnancy, increases the likelihood that you will get it again during a future pregnancy, as well as increases risk of developing type 2 diabetes further down the track.

Ways to prevent Diabetes

We have all heard the saying ‘prevention is better than cure,’ and while this is certainly true there are no guarantees for preventing GD. But by following healthy habits prior to falling pregnant, and sticking to them while you are pregnant, may also reduce your risk of developing GD now, and in future pregnancies, and developing Type 2 diabetes later on. Make sure you follow a healthy diet; consume foods that are high in protein and fibre and low in sugar. Include a variety of fruits, vegetables and whole grains in your diet too.

It is also important to be active. Exercising prior to falling pregnant and while you are pregnant can help reduce risk of developing GD. Speak to your health care professional about what exercises are appropriate for you.

To Conclude

Being aware of what GD is, the consequences of having it and what can be done to help reduce the risk of developing it, is a great first step to a healthy pregnancy. GD usually occurs due to a changing hormonal levels, altering our bodies’ requirement and reaction to insulin. GD usually goes away after the baby is born, however if you do develop GD, it is important to be aware of your increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes down the track. It is recommended that you speak to your doctor or health care professional for nutrition advice. Remember every mother is different and will have different needs during pregnancy. Results may vary.


Tammy Kacev is a registered dietician based in Melbourne, Australia.  For medical and/or personalised health advice, please check with your health carers.  Gestational dabetes may mean baby is at risk of low blood sugar at birth and mothers with GD and or other types of diabetes may experience delayed lactogenisis (Milk 'coming in') so formula supplements may be offered. It is helpful to consider antenatal expression of colostrum to avoid early exposure to foreign protein (eg dairy) and the very real possibilty that limited breast stimulation (because baby is satiated by supplements)  will delay lactation further.  For effective ways to increase breast milk supply download our FREE ebook, 'Making More Mummy Milk, Naturally' .