I was really lucky — when I first got pregnant I had no health insurance. Now, you might think that is a bad thing, but here in Pasadena, we have an amazing free clinic system (sadly not as accessible for those not expecting), and there is a lot of support for mothers-to-be.
Unlike with PPO or HMO doctors, on my first clinic visit I was screened for everything right away — including for gestational diabetes (GDM). Every patient also saw a nutritionist (who was extremely well-trained and teaches/researches at colleges locally) regardless of her background. It was because of this early screening that I knew I had pregnancy-related glucose intolerance before the end of my first trimester and was given the tools to manage it easily.
Unfortunately, most pregnant women are not screened for this disease early — the average screening takes place at 28 weeks — already 7 months into term. What this means is that if someone has actually had this problem since the onset of her pregnancy, she has to change her eating and exercise habits (not to mention learning how to test her glucose or even use insulin) during a time when her body is starting to get more unwieldy and when she may have established a routine that gives into her cravings. This really makes it harder to modify an already set pattern.
When I became pregnant, I suspected that I had GDM because of my age and family history. Some of the signs to watch out for include:
- History of Type 2 diabetes in immediate family (my dad and maternal grandmother developed this disease late in life).
- Being over 35 (I got pregnant at 38).
- Having a history of high cholesterol (I have a hereditary high cholesterol disease and have been on a low-fat diet my whole life).
- High triglyceride levels (related to high cholesterol, researchers have found a link between these and developing diabetes, but are not quite sure of how or why it happens).
These are 4 of the risk factors that were relevant in my case (quite a lot, when you think of it!). Here are a few others:
- Being overweight.
- Ethnic Background.
So, it was a good thing I took that god-awful screening test early!
While it’s been a pain during the past 5 or so months eating low-carb and trying to satisfy my pregnancy cravings, this whole process has been made easier by the fact that I am now acclimated to my diet. It really helps, especially now that I’m only 7 weeks away from my due date and am starting to feel bigger and more hormonal. It also means that Alex’s and my weight have been kept in check and that we both are normal in terms of weight gain.
So, for any of you who are pregnant or who are expecting to become pregnant and two or more of these risk factors describe you, you might want to encourage your doctor to check you early. I find it hard to believe that GDM in many women only shows up late — I think that those of us who are predisposed to getting it do get it early. Even if the test shows normal glucose levels early on, you can always retest at week 28 when the placenta starts producing more glucose. Personally I’ve found that since I’ve been watching my diet for so long, my glucose levels have stabilized and are actually lower than they were at the beginning of my second trimester.
Living with GDM is not a cake walk (umm… cake…). But learning to live with it early on definitely paves the way for a healthier pregnancy, birthing experience, and ultimately healthier baby.
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