It’s not too long after you give birth and the haze of parenthood wears off and your new normal feels, well, normal. It’s usually around this time, as it was for me when dreams of getting back into skinny jeans dance through our heads.
It takes time to get back down to size, but thankfully, breastfeeding helps that along by encouraging your uterus to contract (which hurts a bit) and go back to its original proportions. Breastfeeding burns more calories too, and if you’re eating nutritiously and then getting exercise (only after your doctor gives you the all-clear), there’s no reason why you won’t get back down to size.
I have to be honest with you because I know of no other way.
I could have seriously lost all my weight much faster if I was more disciplined about not eating junk. For me, I was far from home and care packages sent from my family with the foods I missed from home were a huge comfort. They also pushed back my efforts.
Recently, I’ve found out about a trend that I think is very dangerous. It involves going on the keto diet while breastfeeding. I’m going to give you the facts so you can make your own informed decision.
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You’ve Heard of the Keto Diet, Right?
The ketogenic diet consists of highly restricting your carbs while eating lots of fats. It’s similar to the Atkins diet and other low-carb diets. You don’t fully eliminate carbs but you eat such a small amount of them. By reducing your carb intake, your body enters a metabolic state called ketosis.
Let’s dig deep!
When the body is in ketosis, it burns fat for energy and converts fat into ketones in your liver which gives your brain energy. Keto diets are known for reducing blood sugar and insulin levels, which is certainly beneficial.
There are several versions of it, though the most extensively-studied ones are the standard ketogenic diet (SKD) which is very low-carb at just 5% with fats at 75% and proteins comprising the remaining 20%; and the high-protein ketogenic diet which is like SKD but with 60% fat, 35% protein and still only 5% carbs.
On paper, it sounds awesome. I mean, it gets your body to burn fat for you, so come here, Bacon! Put that bacon down, girl! We need to talk.
The Side Effects of Going Keto
Before I tell you more about why you shouldn’t go for the keto diet while breastfeeding, let me explain the side effects of going on the keto diet. For starters, most people come down with the “keto flu.” It tends to last a few days, but do you really want to feel even more unpleasant than you did after birth? Yeah, that’s a hard pass from me too.
It can cause diarrhea, which is another problem. You need to be fully hydrated so your body keeps making that milk for your baby. Diarrhea will only complicate things, not to mention diarrhea is never a fun experience.
Weight regain is another big problem with the keto diet. Dr. Axe says it’s not sustainable in the long run and the complications come when you start eating more carbs, or actually, a normal amount of carbs like you should be eating. There are good carbs and there are bad carbs and I’m a huge believer in just eating the right carbs, balancing your diet, and being active.
I’m not alone on that thinking either.
Jillian Michaels, a famed fitness trainer, is very much against the keto diet. She’s all for balance and her ways make sense. If you need more inspiration, just look at her.
The problem with keto diets is that they promote eating lots of fat and the key to good health is lots of nutrients. Yes, fat is important (good fat anyway) but eating mostly fat in the form of butter and bacon is something that Dr. Axe even shudders at. You’ll do more damage to your heart and set yourself up for disease, all because you want to lose weight.
And believe me,
I so totally get wanting to lose that weight. But keto diets aren’t best for women period. Most of the studies out there about it are done on men. They lack taking our hormones into consideration. This Breaking Muscle article really breaks it down quite well, but in summary, your carb-cutting ways are going to make cortisol, that hormone that gets released during times of stress go haywire and add more belly fat.
So, Should You Try the Keto Diet While Breastfeeding?
I think you know what I’m going to say here, don’t you? I don’t think you should try keto at all, much less while you’re breastfeeding. Don’t just take my word for it though. Please speak to your doctor about it.
You may be wondering if it’s safe to be in ketosis while breastfeeding. Well, that depends. There was a study conducted and as it turns out, the milk volume and the amount of protein in the milk were not affected. Interestingly, the fat in the breastmilk was higher so the babies of the moms in the study got more energy.
Oh but wait. 😮
Sit down, sweetie, because this study, which I tracked to it’s the original source in the link just above, goes on to reveal that just seven new moms were included in the study. If you look on pro-keto sites, they all link to the study but they gloss over that crucial detail about how only seven moms participated and they only ate a high-fat, low-carb diet for eight days and then went back to a regular diet for eight days as a comparison.
These pro-keto sites want you to think it can make you have miracle milk but please if you listen to anything I say at all, please check out the study yourself and please ask your doctor what they think about you doing keto while breastfeeding.
Chances are, they’re going to tell you about the risks of lactation ketoacidosis. In particular, they’ll mention that in studies involving mice, the lactating mother mice died because they went into ketoacidosis, where your body breaks down too much fat thus not meeting your energy needs and overpopulating your system with too many ketones in the blood.
You may be inclined to roll your eyes like my eldest who seems to be going from 7 to 17 when it comes to her surliness and sarcasm, but there are well-documented cases of this happening to real, live human moms. No studies have been done as of yet because no one will approve something so ethically dangerous, but there were this woman and about 10 other documented cases.
In short, keto doesn’t seem to affect breastfeeding as far as milk quality is concerned, but it could negatively impact your health and I strongly advise against it. Again, ask your doctor.
Can you do a low carb diet while nursing?
I know the feeling of wanting to lose that weight, but it took you 9 months to put it on and you need to keep healthy for your baby so you can continue to supply milk. But there are some things you can do to help get yourself back into your pre-pregnancy wardrobe.
Experts say you can eat fewer carbs, but you shouldn’t go to the crazy extremes of keto. A minimum of 50 grams of carbs per day is the lowest you should ever go. In the study I mentioned further above, while the milk really didn’t change (again that was only over a course of 8 days), the sugar levels in your milk become lower.
And it’s not just keto. If you’re a keto fan, I’m not trying to pick on you. If you fast while breastfeeding, it’s also dangerous. I just want you and your baby to be healthy and I want you to be informed. You should definitely speak to your doctor about all of this to ensure whatever diet you’re considering isn’t dangerous for you or the baby while you’re breastfeeding.
If you want to cut down on those carbs while still eating nutritiously, make sure you stay higher than 50 grams of carbs per day. The Diet Doctor says if you follow a strict low-carb menu and add three large fruits to what you eat each day, you’ll get the right amount of carbs. Again, please ask your doctor their opinion to ensure your nutritional needs are being met.
Can dieting affect your milk supply?
I think I’ve covered quite a bit here on keto diets and their effect on milk supply. There’s just not enough information out there that has been extensively studied about it. What I do recommend is eating healthfully. Because everything you eat goes through your milk and nourishes your baby.
This is important:
Protein-rich foods like lean meats, dairy, eggs, beans, low-mercury seafood, and lentils are great for you. Go for whole grains and make sure you get at least 50 grams of them per day. Eat your fruits and vegetables too. Eating a variety of foods will change the flavor of your breastmilk which will make your baby happy.
You should probably keep taking your prenatal vitamins too. Ask your doctor about that.
And don’t forget to drink plenty of fluids too. Ideally, you’ll drink up before you start to feel thirsty. It’s a good idea to have a glass of water before nursing your baby. If you’re really concerned about losing weight while breastfeeding, avoid drinking your calories. Sugary juices and drinks can pack pounds on.
Breastfeeding at night can be a nightmare for most of the moms, here is the guide.
Another word of caution: coffee is ok to drink, but try to do it early in the day and limit it to no more than 3 cups (24 ounces) maximum. Otherwise, you will have a perky and happy baby who won’t go to sleep. Believe me, I know.
Vegetarian or vegan mom?
Make sure you eat foods rich in iron, protein, and calcium. Dark leafy greens, citrus, lentils, and these things are great. Eggs are great for vegetarian moms while vegan moms will need to rely on soy products. For both vegetarian and vegan moms, it’s important that you discuss proper nutrition with your doctor. They may recommend a supplement to help make sure you’re getting all the nutrients you need so that your milk can give your very best to your baby.
In particular, vitamin D is ultra-important so those of you that are strictly vegan must make sure you’re getting enough of this vitamin. Your doctor can tell you what’s best for getting vitamin D to your little one.
How many calories should a breastfeeding mother intake?
Whatever your eating style, you must remember that breastfeeding burns calorie and to keep your body functioning optimally, you need to take in a little more calories too. The Mayo Clinic suggests you take in 330 to 400 calories more per day to keep your energy levels up.
You can smear a tablespoon of nut butter onto whole-grain toast, eat a banana or apple, or even have a cup of yogurt. It’s not just about eating more calories. It’s about making them rich with nutrients. You can eat 100 calories of broccoli or 100 calories of cookies. Which do you think is going to give you more nutrients and help you feel your best?
If you’re reading this, I care about you. Please take good care of yourself and talk to your doctor about keto while breastfeeding. The study I’ve referenced doesn’t encompass enough to sway me into thinking it’s safe and since it’s the only one, I wouldn’t recommend that diet. With any diet though, it’s got to be nutritious and sustaining.
Plus, if you have any other health issues, you’ll most certainly want to open a dialogue with your doctor to make sure you’re doing things healthfully for you and your baby.
Leslie Berry lives with her husband and two young daughters in Los Altos, California where she loves helping other moms get comfortable with motherhood and embracing the insanity with facts peppered with laughs. She loves eating too much sushi, exercise, and jamming out on her Fender.