If you followed along with my last pregnancy, you’ll recall that I was required to consume the neon-orange colored glucose drink (not once, but twice!) to test for gestational diabetes.
At the time, it was the only option my doctor would give me, and the way my health insurance worked back then I didn’t have a whole lot of options other than leaving my doctor and opting for a home birth– which we weren’t prepared to do. So I drank the drink and mentally apologized to my growing baby for flooding him with food dyes and preservatives that I would otherwise never consume. What a terrible practice to be forced on so many pregnant women!
This time around, I was determined to find a better way. I have a new doctor for this pregnancy, and she knows how I feel about doing things as naturally as possible. (I think it helps that I already have one unmedicated hospital birth under my belt– I feel like doctors believe you more when you have already been through labor.) I told her how terrible my previous glucose testing experience had been, how I received a false positive with the one-hour test, how I felt terrible for nearly a week after my 3-hour test, and how I would really, really, really appreciate another option. And lucky for me, she gave me one.
Instead of ingesting a corn-derived, artificially-colored drink that I would most likely never consume on a normal basis, I’m simply testing my blood sugar four times a day using a glucose monitor for one week– when I hit the 30-week-mark in my pregnancy. Doesn’t that sound reasonable? What I love about this approach is that I get to see how my body handles the real food I eat on an everyday basis, which seems like it will provide a more accurate result anyway.
The only downside is that I hate needles, and poking my finger 4 times a day isn’t fun. But, after the first few times I’ve finally gotten the hang of it and it really isn’t that bad. This alternative simply involves testing my blood first thing in the morning (to get my fasting number), and then I have to test it again 2 hours after each meal I eat, for a total of 4 times each day. After talking to my doctor, this is what I would have to do if I were to skip testing for gestational diabetes, anyway– they would treat me as if I had diabetes to be on the safe side, and I’d have to test my blood sugar 4 times a day until I gave birth.
The only issue I’ve had with this method is that during this pregnancy, I tend to graze all day long. So, I have to consciously NOT eat so that I have 2 hours for my body to process the food I’ve consumed and can get an accurate blood sugar reading. To accommodate the test, I drink my morning smoothie and eat my mid-morning snack of raw nuts all at the same time, so that my body won’t get too hungry while I wait the 2 hours before testing. (I realize it sounds ridiculous that I worry about going 2 hours without food… ha!)
Just for Fun
As it turns out, my glucose numbers are perfect, so I’ve started having a little bit of “fun” while I have this glucose monitor and must poke my finger anyway. By fun, I mean I’ve been trying out different food combinations to see how they affect my glucose levels. For example, yesterday I had an all-fruit meal for breakfast to see if it would spike my blood sugar the way everyone always assumes it will, and in contrast, I had a low-carb breakfast another morning to see how my blood sugar responded to that. Below are my results!
Most experts agree that in a healthy person without diabetes, your blood sugar will spike (regardless of what you eat) 45 minutes to an hour after a meal. This is why you test 2 hours after a meal, because your blood sugar should return to normal by then. I’ve always been taught that fruit digests faster than any other food, and according to my glucose numbers, that theory is correct. My glucose reading after the all-fruit meal, which contained a whopping 92 grams of natural sugar, was by far the lowest glucose number I’ve had all week! I assume that’s because my body was able to process the natural sugar and get it out of my blood stream as quickly as it had entered. This number is actually borderline low, and my body was definitely telling me it wanted more food at this point, but I waited the full 2 hours post-meal because I wanted to be as consistent as possible with these readings.
This is why I don’t fear fruit. I am curious to see what would happen to my blood sugar if I ate 92 grams of refined sugar in one sitting, but at the same time, I don’t necessarily want to do that to my body or baby to find out. Although, on a side note, when I took the 3-hour glucose test during my first pregnancy, my blood sugar wasn’t nearly that low at the 2-hour mark, so my body definitely struggled to get that processed sugar out of my blood stream when compared to my all-fruit meal above.
To compare and contrast with the all-fruit meal, I had a low-carb breakfast the following morning which had only 4 grams of sugar, naturally found in the eggs and cheese. My glucose reading was about average after this meal, not any lower than other normal meals I had eaten this week (94 has been my average post-meal reading), which I found interesting since the whole meal consisted of only 5 grams of carbohydrates and my other meals are much higher in carbs. I wonder if the higher fat content kept even that small amount of sugar in my blood stream longer, as I’ve read that fat could be a culprit behind higher blood sugar readings.
Out of curiosity, I’ve also tried to eat some typical lunches, like a turkey sandwich wrapped up in a tortilla, which contained decent amount of carbs, protein, and fat. I’ve had a busy week running errands over my lunch break, so I picked up this wrap at Whole Foods– it’s made to order with warm turkey, field greens, tomato, red pepper, and avocado wrapped up in a large spinach tortilla. Out of all my meals, this one left me with the highest glucose reading I’ve had all week. (Though any reading under 120 is considered perfectly fine as a post-meal glucose reading when testing for gestational diabetes.)
Note: I’ll probably update this post as I continue to test. Another thing I want to look at is how a cup of coffee might affect my “fasting” glucose number, as I’ve heard that plain black coffee can elevate blood sugar, even without cream or sugar added. I’d also love to see if my fasting number goes down after drinking apple cider vinegar at night, as I recall reading that it has been proven to lower blood sugar.
Update: To be on the safe side, my doctor asked me to continue testing my blood sugar every few weeks until the baby was born. I love that this alternative test allowed for me to continue monitoring my blood sugar levels throughout the rest of my pregnancy, since gestational diabetes can develop late in the game. Luckily, that wasn’t the case for me and I went on to have a healthy, unmedicated childbirth. (You can read my first birth story here, and my second birth story here.)
Other Glucose Test Alternatives
In case you’re curious, here are some other alternatives to the glucose test that I discussed with my doctor, along with why she doesn’t recommend them:
A1c Blood Test. This blood test can give you a look at your blood sugar level average over the last 3 months or so, which is great for testing for diabetes in non-pregnant people. The reason why my doctor doesn’t like this test for determining gestational diabetes, is that this condition typically won’t show up until much later in pregnancy. In fact, that’s why she didn’t even want me to test my blood sugar until I was 30 weeks along, because gestational diabetes might not make an appearance until the last 8 to 10 weeks of pregnancy. So, it doesn’t really matter what my blood sugar average has been over the last 3 months– I could still develop diabetes and it could go undiagnosed if we relied on the A1c test.
Eating an equivalent amount of glucose in food or fresh juice. I’ve heard that some midwives will let their clients eat a certain amount of grapes, orange juice, or jelly beans to get to the 50g of glucose found in the standard orange drink. My doctor wasn’t comfortable with that idea, because she felt there were too many variables involved. Since food can vary, she was afraid I’d be eating too much or too little sugar and wind up with an inaccurate result– which could potentially lead to undiagnosed diabetes, or falsely diagnosed diabetes, neither of which is ideal.
I hope you all find this post useful, and that it might help any pregnant women in the future know that there ARE alternatives to the neon-orange glucose drink, even if you have a very traditional mainstream doctor. If nothing else, I learned this time around that they do make a dye-free drink— which would make me feel a little better about drinking it 3 years ago. Why don’t they make that the standard?
Note: If you have no choice but to take the glucose test, I’ll pass on this tip that my doctor shared with me: Rather than eating a low-carb meal before you take the test, as so many doctors recommend, she actually recommended eating a low-fat, higher-carb meal because the body seems to respond to the test better that way. (Possibly because the blood clears out simple sugars faster than it does fat, as shown by my numbers above?) Since false positives are fairly common with the one-hour glucose test, I wonder if this tip might help to avoid that. Also, it’s not uncommon for fasting numbers to be higher than post-meal numbers, so if I had to do it again, I would definitely eat something 2 hours before taking the one-hour test. (You must fast for the 3-hour one, so it’s not an option there.) I fasted for my one-hour test the last time, and failed it by one or two measly points, but went on to pass my 3-hour test with flying colors.
Reader Feedback: If you’ve ever been pregnant, did your doctor offer you an alternative to the glucose test? I’d love to hear if there are any other options available!