By Wendy Colson RN, IBCLC, RLC
The ketogenic diet (aka keto diet) has been rising in popularity, especially among mothers for quick weight loss. As a registered nurse and lactation consultant, let’s break this diet down further to make sure keto while breastfeeding can be safe for you and your baby.
What Is The Ketosis?
The keto diet (named after ketosis) is a diet that is high in protein and fat intake and low in carbohydrates. The low carbohydrate amounts in the diet allow the body to burn fat for energy by turning it into ketones in your body (known as ketosis) instead of the carbohydrates it usually burns for energy. The human body is designed to protect you and ketosis is what happens naturally when you fast to help fuel parts of your body that rely on glucose for energy such as your brain and other organs.
What Is Ketoacidosis?
The keto diet limits carbohydrates from grains, potatoes, and other carbohydrate rich foods, often as low as 20-30g of carbohydrates a day or until ketoacidosis (the process of being in ketosis) is achieved.
Can You Do Low Carb While Nursing?
There is limited research on the keto diet during breastfeeding and its impacts on lactation. Some breastfeeding mothers claim to be able to easily lose weight and maintain their milk supply while others notice that the dehydration or low calorie amount reduces their breastmilk supply. A keto diet can promote quick weight loss due to fluid losses (dehydration) since carbohydrates are attached to water in the body. Carbohydrates are also essential for mood and energy regulation during postpartum, reducing carbohydrate intake has been shown to lead to increased irritability, fatigue and cravings-who needs that?!
However, a keto diet can be safe while breastfeeding if a mother is mindful to ensure she is well hydrated and eats enough calories to support energy levels.
Will Following A Keto Diet Impact My Milk Supply?
Breastfeeding moms want to know- is the keto diet safe while breastfeeding? We know that even among severe maternal diet changes such as in malnutrition or restriction of certain food groups, the nutrients in breastmilk stay steady! Therefore, it is not necessary to make changes to your breastfeeding/providing pumped milk routines when “going keto”. This is another amazing adaptation of the human body's ability to maintain nutrient dense milk for your baby.
However these restrictions CAN deplete mom nutritionally and have an impact on mom’s health. The nature of the keto diet which means limited carbohydrates often means not just cutting carbs but also not taking in enough dietary fiber and eliminating essential micronutrients such as B vitamins and electrolytes. Not enough fiber can cause constipation and gastrointestinal discomfort. The keto diet may also impact milk supply due to dehydration from both not enough hydrating foods or too much of a calorie deficit. Both of these factors can impact milk supply.
How Many Carbs Should A Nursing Mother Have?
Focus on moderating carbohydrate intake (~50g/day) vs restricting to very low carbohydrates (20-30g/day). Since everyone is different, find the highest number of carbs you can eat and still lose weight. I have seen mom lose weight eating 80-100 carbs because of the exercising they did. Make your carbohydrate choices complex carbs: brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal sweet potato, whole grain bread have more fiber and ditch the refined/processed foods..
Is The Keto Diet Safe For Nursing Moms?
Yes, the keto diet can be safe for nursing moms when taking some steps to ensure the diet is not too restrictive. Here’s some additional tips for doing keto while breastfeeding:
- Focus on adding things into your diet that are nutrient dense and balanced, consistency- the key for sustained weight loss. Count your macros (macronutrients- protein, fat, and carbs) to help you eat more balanced meals. You can read more of my weight loss tips here.
- Zoom in on what to add vs restrictions, focus on plenty of lean proteins, fiber rich carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and maintaining adequate hydration. To help keep your milk supply up, consider Hydromom to help keep you hydrated from organic coconut water and provides essential electrolytes and B vitamins which has only 35 calories and 7g sugar.
- Arm yourself with quick, nutrient dense meals and snack options that will keep you full and satisfied. Our BOOBIE* Body Superfood Protein has 0g sugar, 1 Net Carb and fiber/prebiotics and probiotics to keep you full up to four hours. You can enjoy it 1-3x’s a day as a meal, snack or postpartum recovery drink (has all 9 essential amino acids) depending on your health goals because skipping meals as a busy mom is not an option and will actually slow your metabolism making weight loss more difficult.
Finally, I highly recommend using an app such as MyFitnessPal to track your intake. All our BOOBIE* products are on there and keeping track is not only helpful, but mind blowing once you begin your quest to analyze the macros in the foods you eat. Above all, I want you to always #LOVEyourBODY. Praise it for the miracle of life it rewarded you with recently and don’t get hung up too much on the stretchmarks and extra skin from pregnancy.