With gestational diabetes , the first approach your doctor will take is management through lifestyle changes. Many women have been able to successfully control their glucose levels by eating a carefully planned diet and participating in an exercise program.

Eat a Healthy Diet

A nutritionally balanced diet alone can sometimes keep your glucose levels in the normal range. This is generally the first method of treatment that your doctor will try. To help plan your meals, your doctor may recommend that you work with a dietitian.

When you are pregnant, it is important to eat the proper foods to meet both your nutritional needs and your baby’s needs. But if you have gestational diabetes, you have one more focus—to keep your glucose level as normal as possible. In fact, controlling your glucose level is one of the most important responsibilities you have during your pregnancy. This will help keep you and your baby healthy.

During pregnancy, your need for calories and protein increases. And, most vitamins and minerals are also needed in greater amounts. The following tips are designed to help you keep your glucose level within a normal range:

  • Limit sugar and foods high in sugar. —Foods that usually contain high amounts of sugar include cookies, pies, cakes, ice cream, soft drinks, candy, doughnuts, and jams. There are many forms of sugars used in food processing. Look on the food label for names such as corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, honey, turbinado (also known as raw or rough) sugar, molasses, and most ingredients that end in “ose”—like sucrose and dextrose. Noncaloric sweeteners should be used in moderation.
  • Emphasize the use of complex carbohydrates. —Examples of complex carbohydrates are vegetables, cereal, grains, beans, peas, and other starchy foods.
  • Emphasize foods high in dietary fiber. —Foods with high fiber include whole grain cereals and breads, fruits, vegetables, and legumes.
  • Keep your diet low in fat. —Some fat is needed to provide your developing baby with the essential fatty acids necessary for growth and to help your body absorb fat-soluble vitamins. Try to stay away from saturated fats, which are found in bacon, butter, cream, and whole milk cheeses. Instead, choose food rich in unsaturated fats, like fish, olive oil, nuts, and avocado. Eat these in moderation.
  • Include a bedtime snack. —This snack should be a good source of protein and complex carbohydrates. It will help stabilize your glucose throughout the night. Some examples are:
    • 1 ounce low-fat cheese and 5 whole-wheat crackers
    • 2-3 ounces of chicken without the skin on whole wheat bread
    • 3 cups unbuttered popcorn and 1/4 cup nuts

Most women with gestational diabetes need three meals and a couple of snacks, including a bedtime snack, each day. Try not to go more than five hours without eating. Working with a registered dietitian is the best way to develop a meal plan that is right for you.

Get Regular Exercise

A daily exercise program is an important part of a healthy pregnancy. For women with gestational diabetes, it is especially important. Regular exercise increases the efficiency of your body’s own insulin and lowers your glucose levels. In addition, it can help you to maintain a healthy weight during your pregnancy. Before you begin an exercise program, it is important that you discuss it with your doctor.

When you get approval from your doctor, choose exercises that do not require your body to bear any extra weight. Good examples are:

  • Swimming
  • Stationary cycling
  • Walking
  • Low-impact aerobics
  • Yoga

Be careful to avoid contact sports or vigorous sports, or any exercises that increase your risk of falls or injury. It is also important to avoid becoming over-heated. If your body temperature rises too much, it can be dangerous for your baby. Avoid activities like Bikram or hot yoga. Also, drink plenty of fluids, even if you are not thirsty.

Exercising throughout the week is necessary to have an effect on your glucose level. Your doctor can help you to develop a safe exercise program for you and your growing baby.

Stop exercising if you experience:

  • Pain
  • Lightheadedness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Faintness
  • Palpitations
  • Back or pelvic pain
  • Vaginal bleeding

When to Contact Your Doctor

Contact your doctor if you experience any of the following:

  • Pain
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Symptoms of low glucose, including:
    • Anxious feeling, nervousness, shakiness
    • Behavior change similar to being drunk, such as slurred speech
    • Blurred vision
    • Cold sweats
    • Confusion, difficulty in concentrating
    • Drowsiness
    • Fast heartbeat
    • Headache
    • Nausea

Revision Information

  • Gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/ . Updated July 22, 2013. Accessed September 29, 2013.

  • Gestational diabetes: what you need to know. National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse (NDIC) website. Available at: http://diabetes.niddk.nih.gov/dm/pubs/gestational%5FES/index.aspx . Updated August 2, 2012. Accessed August 17, 2012.