Pregnancy can present challenges for any woman. However, managing a diagnosis of gestational diabetes can add additional challenges and therefore result in new stressors in a woman’s life.
Gestational diabetes (GDM) is diagnosed during pregnancy and may or may not persist after the baby is born. When women hear that they have been diagnosed with gestational diabetes, they may feel anxious, overwhelmed, or even guilty, and may worry about their baby’s health. This worry is understandable. However, it is important to be aware that most babies born to mothers with gestational diabetes are perfectly healthy and they will not be born with diabetes.
Gestational diabetes is detected after the baby’s organs have already developed and the baby is in the process of growing, so be reassured that birth defects are not a concern for GDM. The main risk factors with gestational diabetes are associated with delivering a large baby and how the baby is delivered.
Those who have worked with women diagnosed with gestational diabetes are familiar with the types of emotions and stressors these women experience and are equipped with some helpful ways to manage these.
Emotions and Stressors
- Shock: Initially, you may be completely surprised and cannot believe you have been diagnosed with gestational diabetes.
- Overwhelmed: Learning the regimen of managing diabetes, including monitoring blood sugar levels, meal planning and physical activity can feel like a lot. What is supposed to be a happy, expectant time suddenly feels “medicalized” and like “work”.
- Guilt: Worrying that this could be your fault.
- Fear of delivering a larger baby and the possible complications
- Time urgency: people with type 2 diabetes have more time to adapt to the idea that they have diabetes and some time to learn about meal plans and medication. Women with GDM must learn all of this in a much shorter time which can feel stressful for anyone.
- Attending an increase in medical appointments, including obstetrician and endocrinology appointments, plus obtaining regular blood work so that blood sugar levels are best regulated.
- Listening to others commenting on food choices. Almost everyone has an opinion.
- Insulin: If you are experiencing increased blood sugar levels that are not able to be at target by following your meal plan you may need to start on insulin. Insulin may be administered 1 to 4 times per day, depending upon blood sugar levels throughout the pregnancy.
- Fear of needles: This is a new experience for a woman with gestational diabetes. The fear of administering the needles into your body, and the fear regarding how this may affect the baby, is an understandable worry and stress. You can be reassured by getting the correct information, by understanding that insulin is a natural hormone, and there are new ways of delivering insulin to make this task much easier.
- The cost of insulin and diabetes supplies.
- The demands of work and home life.
- The concerned partner.
Coping strategies to manage stressors
- To aid with the adjustment to the diagnosis and to the diabetes management, support from your diabetes health care team can be helpful. It is also helpful to be able to talk with your partner and other family members, who will be understanding and supportive. Your partner can also attend your sessions with the diabetes healthcare team to help understand how best he/she can provide support during your pregnancy.
- Your support person or partner can take notes and help relay information, at your next appointment, from the diabetes team to your primary care or obstetrical team.
- Getting the correct information about GDM, meal plans or insulin from trusted sites like this one or Diabetes Canada [link]can alleviate fears about GDM and insulin.
- To assist with costs, your social worker or another member of your diabetes healthcare team can assist in determining if you are eligible for compassionate insulin and other diabetes supplies.
- Due to the increased medical appointments, you may experience conflict at work. To decrease this stressor, your endocrinologist or obstetrician may be able to write a note.
- Learning relaxation techniques and mindlfulness may help reduce stress.
- When your diabetes management becomes overwhelming – with all the attention you are paying to cooking healthy foods, administering insulin and monitoring blood sugars – try to be kind to yourself! Take long baths, go for a walk or a swim.
Most importantly, be assured that women with gestational diabetes can have healthy pregnancies and healthy babies.