Is the Keto Diet While Breastfeeding Safe?
By Wendy Colson RN, IBCLC, RLC
The short answer is yes… but my general rule of thumb is that pregnancy and postpartum are off limits for dieting. Depending on your pre-pregnancy BMI and/or weight gain during pregnancy, there may be concerns about getting the weight off during postpartum. 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 it’s the right choice for you and your baby.
The keto diet limits carbohydrates from grains, potatoes, and other carbohydrate rich foods, often as low as 30g of carbohydrates a day or until ketosis is achieved. Ketosis is a metabolic state where the body switches to burning fat for energy, rather than carbohydrates. The human body is designed to protect you and ketosis is what happens naturally when you fast. Therefore, yes, you can cut carbs with limitations and follow a keto diet while breastfeeding. Just keep in mind there is limited scientific research on the keto diet during breastfeeding. However, by now, we have enough moms who practice a keto lifestyle to know it can be fine, but keep in mind a few extra guidelines I outlined below.
During postpartum, a keto diet can promote quick weight loss, yet it can feel restrictive (as if you aren’t already feeling overwhelmed). It can also have negative physical side effects that NO mother needs in the early postpartum period (such as: constipation and a decrease in milk supply). Since carbohydrates promote water retention, the initial weight loss is due to fluid loss (dehydration). 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?!
Will a Keto Diet Impact Milk Supply?
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! This is another amazing adaptation of the human body's ability to maintain nutrient dense milk for your baby. Therefore, it is not necessary to make changes to your breastfeeding/pumping routines when "going keto."
However, these restrictions CAN deplete a mama nutritionally and have an impact on her health. The nature of the keto diet 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.
So What’s a Mama Who Wants to Lose Weight to do?
- Focus on adding things into your diet that are nutrient dense and balanced, consistency- the key for sustained weight loss, and 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!
- If you are set on trying out a keto diet, consider focusing on moderating carbohydrate intake versus restricting to very low carbohydrates. This can help you focus on balancing blood sugar and still help you meet your carbohydrate needs throughout the day. This is similar to an individual who needs to monitor their carbohydrate intake for gestational diabetes.
- While breastfeeding, do not let your daily carbs dip below 50g. Since everyone is different, find the highest number of carbs you can eat and still lose weight. I have seen moms lose weight eating 80-100g of carbs because of their exercise routine. Make your carbohydrate choices complex carbs (brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal, sweet potato, whole grain bread). They have more fiber and ditch the refined/processed foods.
- Zoom in on what to add versus restrictions, focus on plenty of lean proteins, fiber rich carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and maintaining adequate hydration. To stay hydrated and help keep your milk supply up, consider Hydromom, a coconut water hydration drink that provides essential electrolytes and B vitamins at 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. It has all 9 essential amino acids and you can enjoy it 1-3x a day as a meal, snack, or postpartum recovery drink depending on your health goals. 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 of our BOOBIE* products are pre-populated into their database, and keeping track is not only helpful, but mind blowing too! It can be an extremely eye opening process once you begin to analyze the macros in the foods you eat, as well as how they make you feel.
Above all, I want you to always #LOVEyourBODY. Praise it for the miracle of life it rewarded you with and don’t get hung up too much on the stretch marks and extra skin from pregnancy.
By Wendy Colson RN, IBCLC, RLC
Wendy Colson, a registered nurse (RN) and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), is the Founder and CEO of Boobie* Superfoods. Throughout her career, Wendy has dedicated her time to helping other women conquer motherhood with ease. She helped thousands of mothers breastfeed their babies or receive their mother’s pumped milk during hospitalization. In addition, she has successfully developed a line of innovative, solution-based supplements & products for each stage of motherhood including pregnancy, lactation, and raising a family. Wendy currently lives in sunny San Diego with her 3 daughters and husband. She spends her leisure time devouring chips and salsa and planning new ways to overcome the challenges of motherhood.