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“My symptoms of gestational diabetes came on so suddenly – it was a real shock."

 

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Reena didn’t have any noticeable signs or symptoms of gestational diabetes when she was diagnosed at 28 weeks pregnant.

Not long after diagnosis, she started to experience some of the signs of diabetes, including extreme thirst and tiredness.

At the start, she was able to manage her blood sugar levels with changes to her diet and physical activity. But after a while, she found that she couldn’t manage her blood sugar levels by this alone.

Reena Reeves
Age 38
Diagnosed with gestational diabetes when she was 34, while pregnant with her daughter

“Looking back at my pregnancy, I feel more informed about diabetes now. If I were to have a second child, I’d go into the experience much more prepared.”

Reena’s journey with gestational diabetes:

  • Developed gestational diabetes while pregnant with Gaia, now aged 3.   
  • Initially treated her gestational diabetes with changes to diet and physical activity.
  • Was later put on metformin which helped to manage her blood sugar levels.

Diagnosis

I was around 22 weeks pregnant with my daughter when the midwife picked up that I had sugar in my urine at a routine check-up. She asked me what I’d had for breakfast that day and I immediately felt bad. I’d had a raisin bagel and a smoothie that morning and thought that whatever she’d noticed was because of my food choices.

My midwife referred me to the hospital to do an Oral Glucose Tolerance Test (OGTT). I didn’t think I needed to worry about diabetes as I wasn’t overweight, but my South Asian background was a risk factor for gestational diabetes, which I hadn’t realised up to this point.

The day after I took the test I got the call from the hospital to say my result wasn’t normal and I needed to attend the diabetes clinic and see a dietitian. My appointments weren’t for a couple of weeks. So, I was told that if I started to feel unwell I needed to get in touch with the diabetes midwife straightaway. I was absolutely gutted, scared and really confused by the whole thing. At the time I was also having a very stressful time at work. It was all so overwhelming.

Not long after the call from the hospital, I started to experience extreme thirst and tiredness, so I called my diabetes midwife and she brought my appointments forward. My symptoms of gestational diabetes came on so suddenly. It was a real shock to go from feeling well to sick in such a short space of time.


Treatment

At the start, I managed my gestational diabetes by making changes to my diet and checking my blood sugars after every meal.

The blood sugar checking was a little strange at first, but you get used to it. Sometimes I’d get upset when I got a high reading as I was worried I’d have to go onto medication and take insulin. In my head, the more medications I took during pregnancy, the more medicalised the birth would need to be and this was something I didn’t want.

As my pregnancy progressed, no matter what I ate, I couldn’t manage my gestational diabetes. My blood sugars became very unstable – I found that foods which were OK one day would make my blood sugar level soar the next. I was only really eating fish, eggs and vegetables and I lost 3kg. I was down and hungry.

My diabetes healthcare team then put me on a tablet called metformin which helped a lot and really took the pressure off. It meant that I had far more choice when it came to meal times and could relax more about eating. Rather than sticking to low carb, high protein meals – which can be tricky for someone who doesn’t eat meat – I could eat slightly more carbs which gave me lots more energy. My mood definitely lifted too.

My healthcare team also explained that metformin was a safe drug to take in pregnancy and that it wouldn’t affect my baby, so that helped to ease my worries.


Changes to diet and nutrition

Making changes to my diet was quite tough. I tried to cut down on sugar as much as I could, and also some sauces and juices which contained lots of sugar. But the biggest change I made was to eat more protein and reduce my intake of starchy carbs.

For dinner, I’d have something like fish, veg and a small portion of potatoes, or a portion of curry and some rice. I’d then go for a walk after I’d eaten. 

“My husband was amazing and spent a lot of time researching recipes, shopping for ingredients and cooking different things.”

For a treat, I’d have berries and Greek yogurt. I was told that if I have something sweet, I should try to eat it with protein or fat – like cottage cheese and fruit or cheese and apple.

Sometimes I felt like I was missing out, especially when I couldn’t eat any cake at my own baby shower! I remember my friends and family kept saying, ‘Just have a taste, a bite won’t hurt you’, but I knew a bite would just make me realise what I was missing.

As a couple, me and my husband had always loved eating out and I found it hard not being able to choose what I wanted from the menu, especially desserts. I remember being on holiday in Devon just before the baby was due and not being able to eat some of my favourite foods – ice cream, cream teas and fish and chips – was tough.


Support from husband and midwives

My diabetes midwives and nurses at The Rosie Maternity hospital, part of Addenbrookes hospital, were so supportive – I couldn’t have asked for better. They offered me amazing nutritional advice and they were also very realistic about how the birth would be.

Before being diagnosed with gestational diabetes, I had taken a hypnobirthing course and wanted to have a natural delivery in one of their amazing birthing suites. But my midwives explained early on that this probably wouldn’t happen as I’d have to give birth on the delivery unit and be induced early. It was very upsetting, but, in hindsight, they really helped to manage my expectations

My husband, Rog, was brilliant too. He picked up everything, bless him. He came along to all of my appointments with me and took the time to understand what my diagnosis meant and what changes we’d have to make. During the birth, his support didn’t waiver for a second. We definitely navigated gestational diabetes together, as a team, and I know that without him my condition wouldn’t have been managed so well.


After birth

Like most women with gestational diabetes, my biggest worry during my pregnancy was whether my baby would be OK. One of the risks of gestational diabetes is that babies can be much bigger than normal, which can cause complications. There is also a higher risk of stillbirth, which played on my mind. But I had lots of scans and extra checks which all turned out to be fine and this really helped to reassure me.

When Gaia was born, the midwives needed to prick her heels regularly to check her blood sugar levels. They were very low, even when she was given little drops of milk from a special feeding cup, so she had to be taken to the neonatal intensive care unit.

I had imagined by now I would be cuddling my baby and recovering, but instead I found myself sitting by her incubator while she was fed by a tube. It was upsetting, but again my midwives were amazing and reassured me she was going to be OK. I got to spend as much time with her as I wanted – day and night – and lots of skin to skin contact helped us bond.

My little girl recovered quickly, and after a week, we were able to go home and begin life as a family of three. Despite being a low birth weight, she was a healthy, perfect little girl. And my gestational diabetes went straight away after the delivery, which was a huge relief.


Reena's perspective

"I now try to follow a healthy diet and exercise regularly. My husband and I have also tried to create healthy eating habits for our daughter too, who happily eats lots of fruit and veggies."

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