My Pregnancy Survival Story: Gallstone Colics & Gestational Diabetes
20 weeks may seem a long time, when you have to give up all the cravings, obey strict rules and combine the two diets
I am sharing my pregnancy story with all, who might have received same diagnosis but cannot find much resources or similar stories anywhere else.
Note: this is only my perspective about surviving pregnancy with a diagnosis of gallstones. I do not have any medical education and would not like you to follow my footsteps. Gallstones and colic experience are probably different for each individual.
I felt lonely when I received a diagnosis of gallstones in the middle of the pregnancy. Suddenly, I had to follow 2 diets — one for managing diabetes and another for gallbladder. Doctors were kind but knew only about one of 3 topics — either pregnancy, either abdominal heath or diabetes. There was none who would have a more wholesome approach. I was eating plain rice and steamed zucchini, losing weight, and had no one to talk to.
Maybe my story can help someone in the similar situation, give her hope or just lessens the loneliness feelings.
Everyone, who had a gallbladder colic, knows food choices are most important. I am going to describe what and how I’d eaten to survive those 20 weeks. However, food is not all. I’ve noticed many more unique occurrences, which I will briefly describe at the end of this article.
Gallstones statistics say I was not alone.
Gallbladder health even though it is an actual health issue for 11–20% of Europeans and 15% of USA population (source worldgastroenterology.org). Despite high numbers, one would likely not know much about this condition.
The reason for the lack of knowledge lies in the treatment method. As soon as you enter the ER with acute symptoms and pain, they sign you up for a quick date with an abdominal surgeon. Through a standardized laparoscopic (if you’re lucky) operation, they will cut your gallbladder out and send you home. From that moment on, »you minus one organ« should live happily ever after.
Pregnancy and gallstone treatment
The procedure is not the same in case of pregnancy. Where I come from, doctors obey the rule to make a laparoscopic operation in 2nd trimester, but no later than 20 weeks. Any time earlier or later (1st & 3rd trimester), as they have explained me, would not be safe enough (unless in case of life and death).
I’ve visited the ER at 20 weeks of pregnancy. After an ultrasound and bloodwork tests, they’ve diagnosed my severe pain in the upper abdomen as gallstones issue. It was too late for me to receive any other treatment than antibiotics and painkillers. Meaning, I could keep all the organs for the following 20 weeks of pregnancy. I should follow the dietary advice and eat some pills in case of any additional colic attacks.
And guess what, the bigger your belly gets, less space for the squeezed abdominal organs and the more intensive attack. I could easily compare the pain of every attack with the experience of labouring my first child.
Gallstones & gestational diabetes combo
Gallbladder colic caused by stones is believed to be triggered by fatty foods or too much fibre and too hot or cold foods. Thus, my doctor’s advice was to eat mainly (refined) carbs, well-cooked vegetables and lean cuts of meat or fish. Fats should be minimized to 6 teaspoons of plant-based oils daily. Milk and dairy products should be low fat. No cheese, no nuts, no raw food (goodbye salad bowls) and no egg yolks. And, oh, no more coffee and no chocolate.
On top of gallstone diet, I had to be very careful with carbs, sugar and fats intake because of gestational diabetes.
After receiving the diagnosis, I started eating like a 6-months old baby. I was adding ingredients one by one and noticing which one would give more heartburn or pain under the ribs. I would write a daily diary of everything I’d eaten and how did it affect my sugars and general wellbeing for each bite.
Gallstone attacks (colic)
First month went by with no attack reoccurring. Just when I thought I had the system figured out; attacks came back. At first, I thought they were related only to stress, as I would have one every Saturday. On those days we had visitors, and I was full of expectations, cleaning and cooking and running around a lot / too much, maybe.
But the attacks started also in the middle of the week until I’d had them every 3rd of 4th day. A day or two after an attack, I was eating only small pieces of bread or cooked rice to minimize the chances of getting another attack. Then, every time I would eat “normal” again, I would regain the pain.
Throughout the entire process, I have written food diary and could conclude what the triggers were. It turned out I would get an attack because of the “wrong” foods, eaten many hours prior to the attack (e.g. I would have a sip of low-fat milk for breakfast, but an attack came at 13 o’clock, which was after my lunch time).
What would I eat in order to avoid further attacks and sugar spikes?
Different foods can trigger gallstone colic. Triggers differ for each individual. This means doctor’s guidelines are only meant to be general and are not 100% accurate for you or me. After figuring out what the right and wrong choices looked like for me, I would combine the two diets (diabetes and gallstone) like this:
- Eating smaller meals 4–6 times per day: breakfast, snack, lunch, snack, dinner, evening snack. Number of meals would vary depending of my heartburn after each meal (e.g. too much heartburn means I do not feel hunger at all)
- Eating lots of carbs, but not the most refined ones, as my sugar will spike too much
- Incorporate small pieces of lean meat (poultry or fish) and small types of legumes to have proteins
- No diary nor egg; after some painful attacks, I realized I cannot tolerate any diary, even if it is low fat
- Cooking veggies or some fruit with/prior every meal. It helps to lower the sugar and brings some volume to the dish.
- Eating as liquid and soupy food as I could. Liquid food is more digestible and lessens the heartburn. I had very strong heartburn (also symptom of gallstones, not only pregnancy related) since week 6 of my pregnancy.
- Add spices–I’ve looked into books which spices are good for my health condition and which one is safe for you. E.g. I would add cinnamon to my breakfast to lower the sugar and cumin at lunch to make it more digestible. I am trying to avoid turmeric and rosemary.
I can digest wholegrain carbs without gaining biliary attacks. I can also eat as many (cooked) veggies as I want and I tolerate small legumes (e.g. lentils, green peas). I can even eat some raw fruits such are pealed apples and pears, blueberries, bananas.
What I have discovered after trials and errors is that in order to avoid the pain, I should exclude all diary, all eggs, red meat, corn and raw vegetables such as salad or cabbage. I also add no or minimal tomatoes, peppers and eggplants. They are all nightshades and give me extra strong heartburn.
Beside rules above, I try to follow some basic guidelines from Ayurveda. They are meant to ease the digestion:
- Avoiding dry and cold foods, eating as much warm and liquid food as I can. This also includes warm drinks (lots and lots of herbal tea for me).
- Having meat/fish only as part of lunch. This is because the digestive fire is said to be strongest when the sun is highest, e.g. in the middle of the day.
- Only eating fruits when sun is out (between dusk and down), 1-hour before meal, if possible, with no other food aside. When I eat an apple in the early morning, I always cook it with some cloves.
- Adding spices, which help my digestion & which are common and accessible in my country. I am a fan of local food. E.g. I would not eat coconut or avocado products as they do not grow in our region.
- Eating a lot of beets. This advice was given in one interview with Ayurvedic doctor Marianne Teitelbaum, D.C., also author of the book “Healing the Thyroid with Ayurveda”. In this book, she wrote an entire chapter about how gallbladder and thyroid are interconnected.
After eating this way and combining the two diets, my sugar levels have dropped to the point I did not need any insulin medicine until end of pregnancy. Also, my weight in those 20 weeks has dropped for about 9 kgs. It is also important to know that I’d started pregnancy with ITM 30. Therefore, I was very grateful that I’d began my pregnancy with an extra 20 kg. They represented important source for my baby to grow even though I was eating less calorically dense foods and thus was constantly losing weight.
Other gallstones & pregnancy related experiences
Suitable diet is indeed important in case of gallstones. However, I can describe many more facts, unique to “gallstones & pregnancy” status.
Sleeping upright and happy nightly pain
Sometimes I could feel a lot of pressure under the ribs, especially when lying down. Since the painful experience began, I slept on my left side. However, if I could still feel dinner or a late-night snack in my stomach, I would go to sleep in the sitting position. Of course, I would then wake up in the middle of the night in a pain. I would check–is it pain from stiff neck or am I having pain colic? As long as pain was coming from the neck, I’d call it my “happy nightly pain”.
Repeat the food-choice-challenge with each new season
My gallstone issues began in summer. It was a time of zucchini, cucumber and lots of other garden vegetables. Cooking fresh and fast was easy. But then, autumn came and suddenly, I had to figure it out again–which foods make me feel better and which would make my pain and heartburn worse?
E.g. pumpkin soup does not bring pain under ribs, but gives me a lot of heartburn. Also, autumn vegetables are much starchier and root-y, which means more planning and longer preparation time. They are also all sweeter, which means more heartburn and higher after-meal sugar levels in general.
Even alternative medicine wants you to wait
To be honest, my first response to the surgeon was, “I don’t want to give up a whole organ!”. I was determined to find an alternative solution. I had double-checked my diet guidelines with an Ayurvedic doctor, wrote to homeopathic organization, visited an osteopath and planning to visit Centre of traditional Chinese medicine. I’ve also ordered and read the famous Moritz’s book about the cleanse & flush. (This book seemed to be the most cited and recommended resource in social media groups).
I think I could write a whole another article about my experience with alternatives, but so far, I can say this: there are alternatives, but they all–same as traditional medicine–want you to wait until you give birth. So, no meaningful help and lonely feelings remained for the rest of the 20 weeks period.
The only time (ever) I am not proud of losing some weight
I have been gaining (most of the time) and losing (sometimes) weight since started going to school or even earlier. I can say I am very good at adding kilos to my body, while losing them was always a special struggle and did not last long enough. But not this time.
Pregnancy, they say, is the only period in a woman’s life, when she should not worry about numbers on the scale. Well, not in my case. It worried me as numbers went down. However, it seemed that I have finally discovered the “secret recipe”, I was wishing for my entire life! I am eating mostly carbs, eating until I am full and still losing 2–3kgs per month. I mean, those were my dreams!
I say “were” my dreams, because with baby in my belly, I was not happy after I’ve lost 8 kgs in the last trimester. I’d wonder if the baby got enough nutrients? Every time I googled “losing weight in pregnancy”, I found a lot of advice against losing weight in pregnancy as together with fat, also toxins are melting and those are supposed to be harmful for the baby.
I am also a member of several social media groups–local and international, who had a due date in the same month as I do. When they complain about weight gain, there are hundreds of “me too” answers. When I complain about losing kilos, I am alone.
The most comfortable words came from my mother (she must be smarter than google!). She would remind me that there are women having babies amid wars, there are even women eating only junk, and there are those who do not know they are pregnant at all. I bet I can eat more nutrient dense food than some of those!
You are looking good!
Losing weight because of the diet meant my legs became leaner, my face lost its double chin, and of course my backside has missed some of its feminine curves.
As it is not recommended or conventional to lose weight in pregnancy, people around me would stay very polite. I would never hear a direct compliment regarding my thinner body. Instead, I would hear things as “you are such a beautiful pregnant lady”, “you are looking great”, “you are adorable”, etc.
Emotional eater on therapy & no cravings allowed
There is a saying: as much as you give to the child, the child gives back and you both grow together. Indeed, this baby has changed me so much already, even before giving birth. I mean, who could say they have overcome emotional eating without seeing an expensive therapist?
I am someone who had been constantly hungry. Stress made me hungry, fear made me hungry, and my happy times were celebrated with food! Food was my friend and my comfort. However, gallstones do not go well with overeating, neither with cravings nor with a full stomach. In order to survive my pregnancy with as less pain as possible, I had to learn fast to distinguish which is genuine hunger and which are my emotions’ or hormones’ cravings.
How do you order pizza, when you shouldn’t eat any processed meat (e.g. ham) and no diary (e.g. cheese)? What salad plate would you choose when you cannot eat fresh vegetables? Or how to order anything else, if you are not sure how much oil they are going to put into the dish?
In all of 20 weeks I would eat out 3 times. I had 2 “pizzas” made of thin dough, tomato sauce and oregano. Yes, I was still hungry after finishing this humble meal. The third was a bit bolder choice–a risotto. I decided to trust the cook will actually prepare the meal in ordered low fat way. When I was ordering, I told the server which ingredients I wanted to exclude from the dish on the menu. I listed “cream, onions, parmesan cheese, corn…” until he would then interrupt and beg me to rather tell him only the remaining 3 ingredients.
What a relief when the belly goes South!
“During last weeks of pregnancy, the belly drops a little and the pregnant lady can breathe easily”. This is the description in the manuals for the parenting. In my case, I did not only breathe easier, I could sleep again on my right side without the pain under whole ribcage.
Teitelbaum D.C. in her book Healing the thyroid with Ayurveda also mentions how acid reflux is one of the major symptoms of thick and not flowing bile in the body. This was true in my case. As my due date colleges would start to have heartburn after some 20+ weeks of pregnancy, my throat would burn from week 5 on. I tried to ease it by eating many smaller meals, cooking moist and liquid food and eating sourdough bread instead of a conventional one, based on yeast.
In nowadays, pregnant lady is reminded very often to eat nutrient-rich foods in order to offer her baby the optimal conditions to grow and develop. Well, every time I would hear or read something like this, a million “what ifs” would rush through my mind. What if my baby’s brain can not develop properly because there is not enough fat? What if he is going to be stupid because of me? What if he is going to be ill because of all the medicine I have eaten during those attacks? I felt so guilty, even before he was born.
I tried to google some solution or some answer to calm me down. But as mentioned, there is so much information about how not to lose weight and how not to worry about eating more. No one is addressing eating less in the late pregnancy. I would address this issue to my doctors. Finally, one of gynaecologists told me they would only notice development problems with newborn of mothers who were drug addicts or would have some serious eating disorder (e.g. bulimia). From that moment, I stopped looking for other answers and kept calm.
Party time and the day after
Every time I had an attack, my body would go through a real hungover the next day. In fact, I think there are a lot of similarities between biliary colic attack and teenager-style party:
- The best party is the spontaneous one.
Likewise, the hardest gallbladder attacks come unannounced.
- You would dance the night away.
During my attacks, I could not seat nor lay down as my pregnant belly would push too much into the gallbladder area. My attacks lasted from 4 to 10 hours. The entire time I was walking up and down, bouncing on my hips like dancing.
- Getting stoned
I had 2–3 types of pills at every attack
- You are so happy and excited when the party is on… until the hungover strikes the next day
Even though there was a lot of pain, I kept being chatty and energetically walking up and down during the attack hours. Then, when I could finally lay down, I would go to sleep. When I woke up the next day, my legs were like jelly, I was trembling after the shortest walk, and there was flu-like pain all over my body.
Calm down and relax: it’s time for your wellness
Diet can do a lot for the gallbladder health, but so does peaceful mind. Before gallstones’ pain stopped me, I would live a fast and stressful life. Then, suddenly, I had to stop and relax. Being calm and relax lessened my chance of getting more attacks.
I had to stay calm during the craziest year of them all–2020. There was COVID-19 pandemic, but I just did not worry as much as “the old me” would.
Joyce Sunada said, “If you do not make time for your wellness, you will be forced to make time for your illness.”
This was my lecture of the whole (still ongoing) process. Despite the pandemic, I was focusing on staying in the present moment, taking care of my wellness first and only then following some news.
Fear childbirth not
Around week 30, when the belly gets so big, it becomes very normal to feel the fear of letting this baby creature out of you. But I was not scared. I would joke how I gave birth 10 times already. My colic pain intensity was always very similar to the one I knew from the first labour. One more painful experience will not scare me.
It is the end, but it is not over yet
I am not pregnant anymore, but gallstones are remaining. I am on the waiting list for the operation and meanwhile trying out alternative methods. I am also in the process of transforming my modern, fast-paced life into a slow one.
I believe those 20-weeks have brought so much to me. I have learned a lot about myself. I could finally reprogram my eating patterns. I had to become more patient with myself, which included listening to my body more and stop rushing. It showed me how important is to take care of myself (first). Above all, it showed me I am strong enough to last and enjoy all those months, even though I had to change my behaviours fast and follow the strict diet rules.
Normally, I would refuse to share so much personal information. I am publishing it anyway, hoping it would become useful for someone in a similar situation. In case you are also having gallbladder issues in your pregnancy, maybe you don’t have to feel as lonely as I used to feel. Or at least, this reading brought you at least some advice or a tiny bit of comfort.