5 Survival Tips From Parents With Diabetes
For new moms and dads who have diabetes, it might seem like there’s a dearth of information to help you cope. We’re here to change that. Diabetes Forecast talked with parents and health care experts to get the real scoop on balancing your own health with caring for your new bundle of joy.
1. Get Some Shut-Eye
Even in the best of times, a rough night of sleep can make for out-of-whack blood glucose levels. Likewise, when you and your baby are on opposite schedules, your sleep times can be thrown off balance, says Sue Kirkman, MD, medical director of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine’s Diabetes Care Center. Her suggestion? If one parent does not have diabetes, he or she should handle more nighttime responsibilities. A new baby may amplify other stressors, which also can play a role in erratic blood glucose readings, says Aaron Kowalski, PhD, 45, chief mission officer at the JDRF. Each of his children was born while Kowalski was navigating stressful situations, including attending graduate school and starting new jobs. “I was seeing more highs and more variability for sure,” Kowalski says. Using a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) to manage his type 1 diabetes was especially helpful, allowing him to spot trends and alerting him to highs and lows.
2. Plan Healthy Meals
Simplifying your schedule and taking the time to prepare meals for the week can have major benefits, says Tia Taylor Williams, MPH, MS, CNS, a certified nutrition specialist. She suggests theme nights, such as Taco Tuesdays or Fresh Fish Fridays, to help streamline grocery shopping. One-pot meals, such as slow-cooker recipes or stews, typically last for several days, and cleanup is a snap. Egg dishes, which are easy to make, are high in protein, which can prevent significant post-meal blood glucose spikes, she adds.
3. Shore Up Your Squad
Communicating with your diabetes care team to make sure someone is always accessible can make the transition easier after the baby arrives. Type 1 blogger Kim Vlasnik, 37, of Nebraska, says she set up a communications plan with her health care providers while pregnant with her second child. “With my endocrinologist, I could e-mail her through the patient portal or upload my pump or CGM information,” Vlasnik says. That helped with making medication and food adjustments in the post-pregnancy weeks.
4. Focus on Fitness
If you were up all night with a crying baby, the last thing you might want to do is exercise. But taking time for physical activity will help you maintain more stable blood glucose levels and release those mood-lifting endorphins. This is important for people with diabetes, who are at a higher risk for depression. You can take family walks—bring your baby along in a stroller or carry him or her close to your body. Or you may choose to work out alone for some “me” time.
5. Put Your Health First
Amanda Bartelme, 39, of Arlington, Virginia, says that living with diabetes is emotionally draining, “and parenting can exacerbate that at times.” Staying in a safe blood glucose range is important not only for her own health but also for the health and safety of her daughters, ages 3 and 6. She’s talked with her kids about her type 1 diabetes, including why they can’t eat the snacks she uses to treat and prevent lows. Blogger Kerri Sparling, 36, of Providence, Rhode Island, says she was unprepared for the burnout she felt after months of meticulous attention to her type 1 diabetes. But during her pregnancy with her second child (born in August 2016), she was ready. “I have tossed aside this expectation that I need to do everything perfectly,” she says. “I’m not afraid to ask for help, either with diabetes or baby-related stuff, and my mental and physical health is better for it.”
What About the Grandparents?
Grandparents with diabetes who are also caregivers can follow the same advice given to new moms and dads, says Sue Kirkman, MD, of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine Diabetes Care Center. Avoiding hypoglycemia is important—for your safety and kiddo’s—and grandparents can also set good examples for modeling healthy behavior.