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Gestational Diabetes - 5 Key Messages

by Diana Edwards March 28, 2024 7 min read

Gestational Diabetes - 5 Key Messages


A diagnosis of gestational diabetes can be very confronting. Many emotions arise: guilt, shame, sadness, worry, overwhelm and anger…You will have so many questions in your head. The best way to embark on the Gestational Diabetes journey is to arm yourself with evidence-based knowledge. To help you to understand more about Gestational Diabetes, here are my 5 key messages.


Understanding this point takes away the unfair guilt and shame that many women feel after diagnosis.

Gestational diabetes mellitus, or GD is a type of diabetes that occurs in pregnancy, due to the placental hormones compromising normal insulin action.

Normally our blood glucose levels ( BGLs) are controlled by our hormone insulin. Insulin lowers BGLs. However, the placental hormones raise BGLs. In some women, usually later in pregnancy, the placental hormones override your insulin action, causing insulin resistance. This results in high blood glucose.

Excess glucose can cross the placenta and impact baby’s health in the short and long term. And there are increased risks for the mother’s health as well.

However, if GD is diagnosed promptly and treated appropriately, these risks are low.

GD is not due to eating too much sugar or carbs in early pregnancy.

Many women blame themselves but it’s important to know that GD is due to a complex mixture of factors, triggering increased insulin resistance.

Many of these factors are out of your control such as:

  • Family history of diabetes
  • Older age , especially > 40 yrs
  • History of PCOS
  • Certain cultural backgrounds-

Asian, Indian, Middle Eastern & Indigenous groups are more at risk.

  • Expecting twins or triplets

GD can also occur in women with no known risk factors, eating very healthy diets and exercising regularly.

We clearly don’t know all the causes of GD!

Studies are looking into other factors that modulate insulin resistance, like the Microbiome, Vitamin D and Magnesium status along with other hormones.

GD is not caused by diet but treated by diet and exercise, so if you are          already eating a healthy diet, you won’t need to make major changes.


The dietary management of GD is a balancing act.

On one hand the eating plan is designed to help keep BGLs within the tight range.

But on the other hand, the diet needs to be nutritionally adequate for pregnancy to support mother’s health as well as the growth and development of their baby.

It’s not meant to be a “keto boot camp weight reduction diet”.


Its important to include the right type and amount of carbs and

to pair them in a balanced meal for a slower rise in blood glucose levels


Don’t cut out all carbs. Pregnant women and their babies need carbs for energy, nutrition and growth.

Choose Low GIycemic Index or low GI carbs, which are digested more slowly and lead to a lower gradual rise in BGLs. They are more likely to keep post meal BGLs within the target range.

The low GI carbs are generally less processed, high fibre and nutritious options like:

Bread – multigrain, sourdough.

Cereal– oats, high fibre flakes.

Pasta and noodles – pasta, soba, udon or egg noodles, vermicelli.

Rice –  long grain basmati, Doongara, wild/red/black rice.

Other Grains – quinoa, buckwheat, pearl couscous, barley, semolina.

Starchy veggies – Carisma potatoes, orange sweet potato,corn

Most Whole fruit –  except melons,juice.

Whole Milk and natural Greek yoghurt

Wholegrain and seeded crackers

By measuring carb serves at meals, it can assist with keeping BGLs within the recommended range. Your carb requirements are individual. Seeing a dietitian can help you to determine your needs, based on many factors including appetite, activity, cultural background, food preferences, health goals and individual glucose tolerance. What works for one woman may not work for another.

Eating 3 small meals and 3 regular snacks, and spreading carbs over the day, also helps with your glucose tolerance.


The food containing protein, good fats and fibre take longer to be digested, so if you pair your carbs with these foods, the carbs in the meal are digested more slowly, leading to a lower rise in post meal BGLs.

Protein foods include meat fish chicken eggs tofu and cheese.

Good fats include olive oil, avocado, olives, nuts and nut butters

High fibre foods include all the non-starchy veggies containing minimal carbs.

For example, If you ate just toast at breakfast you’d get a higher BGL than if you ate toast with protein like eggs and added in good fats like avo as well as veggies like say, mushrooms.

This balanced meal is slowly digested, resulting in a lower post meal BGL. The combination also helps you to feel satisfied and assists with optimising your pregnancy nutrition.

Aim for a plate with ¼ carbs, ¼ protein & good fats and ½ plate veggies Design your meals based on that formula. Its easy and it works.
Be sure to include the key micro-nutrients for pregnancy including, iron, calcium, folic acid, iodine, vitamin B12, Vitamin D, Zinc, Magnesium and Choline.
Your dietitian can help you with an individualised meal plan.


BGLs are also influenced by many other factors other than diet, such as:

Activity: Being active as appropriate in pregnancy, leads to glucose uptake by the muscles for energy.

A short walk for 10 mins after meals can lower post meal BGLs.

A longer walk in the evening for 20-30 min may help lower fasting BGLs.

Stress, Illness or pain:Increases cortisol which pushes up BGLs.

Sleep: Poor sleep increases the stress hormones.

Hydration: Dehydration can concentrate glucose levels.

Time of Day: Due to changes in hormone profiles over the day.

And stage of pregnancy: As your pregnancy progresses, the placenta grows and more placental hormones are produced, increasing your insulin resistance. The same meal can give higher BGLs later in pregnancy.

Bottomline: It's not just about your diet

Your Diabetes team will look at the big picture when interpreting your BGLs.


GD is generally managed by a healthy eating plan and exercise.

However, for some women, lifestyle measures are not enough.

Due to genetics and the hormones of pregnancy, some women are very insulin resistant and BGLs remain elevated, through no fault of their own.

At that stage your Diabetes team may suggest medication.

It may be for fasting levels or post meal levels or both.

It depends on your doctor, hospital, and individual situation as to the type of medication prescribed. In Australia the options generally used are Metformin or Insulin. The main message is if you need medication, it is not your fault.  It is NOT a fail. Medication is safe and effective in managing BGLs and ceases at birth. Understand the pros and cons of medication. Your Diabetes team will guide you with your management.


My final message is that there is “no one size fits all” when it comes to managing your Gestational Diabetes.

Every woman has her own unique glucose tolerance and nutritional needs.

What works for one woman might not for another.

Your personal eating plan will be determined based on the many factors just discussed.

There will be a certain amount of trial and error too as you trial certain types and amounts of carbs in certain meal combinations.

Some meals will work well but others not so. You learn and modify.

Pregnancy is a moving target. What worked earlier, may not work later.

Exercise can help but is not appropriate for everyone.

Some women will require medication and other women won’t.

Best tip:

See an accredited practising dietitian (APD) with experience in gestational diabetes, early in your journey, to assist with education about food choices, serving sizes, food shopping and organisation, meal and snack ideas, meal prep, recipes, eating out, and other challenges.

There may be a dietitian in your Diabetes team at your clinic or hospital or you can asked to be referred to a dietitian in private practice.

Overall your Diabetes team will guide you with testing and medical management of blood glucose throughout your pregnancy.

Remember you are unique and so is your GD journey. Knowledge is power. Gather evidence-based information. Ask lots of questions. Reach out for support along the way. Wishing you well in your GD journey


About the author:

Finding out you’re pregnant is one of the most memorable moments of our lives. When this is coupled with a diagnosis of gestational diabetes, we may find ourselves dealing with a range of emotions and on a path we find hard to navigate. If this is part of your pregnancy, we are very pleased to bring our Yummy Maternity mamas-to-be some guidance and tips from accredited practising dietitian, Robyn Compton. 

Robyn started her career as a clinical dietitian in the wards at Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne before becoming Dietitian in Charge and moved into private practice when she started her own family. Robyn has worked as the Consultant Dietitian for Diabetes Australia & Royal Melbourne Hospital Diabetes Centre and later assisted with Diabetes Research within the Endocrinology unit. At her private practice, based at Royal Women’s Hospital, Robyn specialises in providing nutritional information and support to women in pregnancy, in particular with gestational diabetes.  She is married with 2 beautiful children and loves escaping to the family coastal home on weekends.



Diabetes Australia: Position Statement August 2020, Gestational Diabetes in Australia.

Meloncelli N et al. The challenge of Standardised MNT Prescription in GDM Management. Seminars in Reproductive Medicine 2021.

Rasmussen L et al. Diet and Healthy Lifestyle in the Management of Gestational Diabetes Mellitus. Nutrients 2020; 12: 3050.

Yilmaz E et al. Gestational Diabetes Diet: Alternative Approaches. Series Endo Diab Met 2023; 5 (2): 92-99.

Wong M et al. Impact of carbohydrate quantity and quality on maternal and pregnancy outcomes in GDM: A systematic review and meta-analysis.  Diabetes & Metabolic Syndrome: Clinical Research and reviews 2024; 18: 102941

Nichols, Lily. Real Food for Gestational Diabetes. 2015.

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