Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2003;68(9):1775-1776

What is gestational diabetes?

Gestational diabetes is a kind of diabetes some women get during pregnancy. (Say: jess-tay-shun-al die-ah-bee-tees) If you have gestational diabetes, your body cannot use glucose (blood sugar) the way it should. Too much sugar stays in your blood.

If you have gestational diabetes, you might be able to control your blood sugar levels with exercise and a healthy diet. Or, you might need insulin shots to keep your blood sugar at the right level.

How does gestational diabetes affect my baby and me?

Most women with gestational diabetes deliver healthy babies. Problems may develop if you have gestational diabetes that is not treated. Gestational diabetes can cause you to have a large baby. Giving birth to a large baby may hurt you or the baby. You may need a cesarean section (a surgical delivery) if your baby is too large to be born naturally.

Gestational diabetes also can affect babies after they are born. Some of these babies have low blood sugar levels or jaundice (yellow-colored skin). These problems are treated in the hospital. A baby with a low blood sugar level is given sugar water. A baby with jaundice spends time under a special light.

After delivery, you probably will not remain diabetic. However, you will be at higher risk for getting diabetes later in life.

Why is it important to follow a special diet during pregnancy?

A healthy diet can help protect you and your baby from gestational diabetes. For a pregnant woman, a normal diet consists of 2,200 to 2,500 calories per day. If you are overweight before you get pregnant, you will need fewer calories than other women. It is important to pay attention to what you eat and when you eat.

What foods should I eat?

Read package labels. Packaged foods are labeled to describe how much of certain nutrients they contain. When you choose foods, pay attention to four things: protein, carbohydrates, fiber, and fat.

Protein is found in meat, dairy products (such as milk, yogurt, cheese), fish, eggs, beans, and poultry. You should eat protein at every meal. One serving is about the size of a deck of cards. Healthy sources of protein include baked chicken, grilled fish, bean soup, and low-fat cheese.

Carbohydrates are a kind of sugar that is found in foods such as bread, pasta, and cereals. Less than one half (about 40 percent) of what you eat should be carbohydrates. Eat most of your daily carbohydrates at lunch. Healthy sources of carbohydrates include boiled pasta, baked potatoes, cereal, and toast.

Fiber is a kind of carbohydrate. It provides nutrition and decreases constipation. Healthy fiber is found in whole-grain breads, corn tortillas, hot cereals (oatmeal and oat bran, but not the instant forms), beans, and fresh fruits and vegetables.

Fat is found in many foods. Fat is high in calories and low in nutritional value, and it can make gestational diabetes harder to control. You need some fat in your diet to help absorb certain vitamins—but don't eat too many fatty foods. Choose low-fat or nonfat foods.

What foods should I avoid?

You should avoid potato chips, candy bars, doughnuts, and similar snacks. Don't drink regular (nondiet) soda, because it is high in calories and sugar. You can use artificial sweeteners instead of sugar.

Try not to eat the foods at fast-food restaurants. Most fast foods are high in fat and low in nutritional value. Don't eat fried foods, like bacon or french fries. If you must eat “on the run,” choose healthy foods like salads or grilled chicken sandwiches. If you eat high-fat food, eat it only once or twice a week. Avoid whole milk—drink nonfat (skim) milk instead.

When should I eat?

It is important to eat at the same times every day. For example, you could eat breakfast at 7:30 a.m., lunch at noon, and dinner at 5:00 p.m. Have snacks at 10:00 a.m., 2:00 p.m., and 7:30 p.m. Regular eating times will keep your blood sugar level stable.

Where can I learn more about gestational diabetes and healthy diets?

Talk to your doctor or a nutritionist. You can get more information from these sources:

  • American Dietetic Association

  • Consumer Nutrition Information and Referrals

  • Web site:

  • Telephone: 1–800–366–1655

  • American Diabetes Association—Gestational Diabetes

  • Web site:

  • Telephone: 1–800-DIABETES (1–800–342–2383)

  • National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

  • Web site:

  • Telephone: 1–800–370–2943

  • Food and Nutrition Information Center

  • Food Guide Pyramid

  • Web site:

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