There are two reasons I’m writing this article today. Firstly, I want more mamas to realize how much impact balanced blood sugar has on your energy and ability to handle the sleepless nights (or just kid exhaustion). Secondly, the incidences of gestational diabetes are on the rise and this has long-term consequences for our babies. In my experience, unless you have nutrition training or a keen interest in this topic, this information is simply not shared properly with moms.
Let’s begin with prenatal nutrition when the baby is still cooking in the oven. You might assume that if you don’t have gestational diabetes, there’s no need to think about blood sugar. I disagree. In fact, there’s research to say that elevated blood sugar and insulin in pregnancy is linked to congenital heart defects and neural tube defects, not to mention that a child’s metabolism can be permanently impacted by maternal nutrition in the womb.
Then, if you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes your baby is at risk of having metabolic issues later in life like heart disease or diabetes. I don’t share this to scare you or make you feel guilty; rather, to empower you because in many cases blood sugar problems can be resolved and managed quickly and relatively easily, with the proper knowledge.
First, let’s talk about carbs. If you are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, most of the time you are still told to consume up to 200g of carbohydrates per day. This is too much and you will find it hard to manage your blood sugar numbers doing this. To give a general recommendation, you want to be in the 90-150g of carbs per day range. Put simply, this means that for most of your meals, the carbohydrate is a side dish, about ½-¾ cup cooked.
*As a reminder, grains, starchy veggies (potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets), legumes, beans and milk are all examples of higher carbohydrate foods. You’ll note these foods are very healthy you just want them to be balanced by protein and healthy fats for better blood sugar regulation.
**If you’re experiencing that (awful) first-trimester nausea, just do whatever you can to survive. As soon as you feel well enough, follow these guidelines. I personally did find that eating more protein actually helped with the nausea, even if I didn’t really feel like those foods.
Now let’s talk protein. I was shocked to learn that when I visited a popular website for gestational diabetes there was no mention of protein at all. It was just to consume less sugar and exercise more (which yes, these are valid recommendations too but not the whole picture).
In 2015, a study was done to measure maternal protein needs in pregnant women, and found they were actually 39% higher in early pregnancy and 73% higher later on in pregnancy vs the estimated average requirement.
According to Lily Nichol’s, a dietician focusing on this topic, approximately 100g/day of protein would be the average amount. This is a LOT higher than most women are getting.
Sources of protein:
To bring this full circle, I'll share the story of Taylor, a custom meal planning client of ours. We wrote a full case study on her experience here. In her first pregnancy, she gained 80lbs, had terrible energy and cravings, and was put at high risk of preeclampsia. For her second pregnancy, she came to us for custom meal planning. After being on the plan, she said, “I don’t hit an afternoon slump, and I just have much more clarity and less food anxiety. I’ve experimented in the past with “cleanses” but this meal plan feels absolutely sustainable (it doesn’t hurt that the food is delicious).”
If you eat enough protein and manage your sugar and refined carbohydrate intake throughout pregnancy, you’ll already be in the habit of doing so post-partum. I found that post-partum, I was SO tired that I craved sugar all the time. At first, I gave in to it to get the (short-term) energy boost you get, but I quickly realized that this was leaving me depleted and even MORE tired later on. I talk more about this here, in my article, My Postpartum Experience with Sugar and Cravings. I won’t go into it again as you can read the article, but suffice it to say that no matter your sleep, eating more protein and less sugar will have a positive effect on your energy.
Regardless of any official diagnosis, focus on protein. Aim for 20-30g per main meal. Make carbohydrates your side dish, vs the main attraction of the meal. Fiber from vegetables and lots of healthy fats will also help prevent a blood sugar spike. If you’d like personalized help with this, you can always learn more about our customized meal planning service.