This is an introductory article for breastfeeding women who think about keto diet as a way to lose some weight. In this article, we will discuss whether keto diet while breastfeeding is safe for the baby and will provide some safety tips for breastfeeding women on keto diet. However, our advice would be to discuss your dietary plans further with a professional nutritionist and with your baby’s pediatrician.
What is Ketogenic (Keto) diet?
Ketodiet is a low-carb diet that has become very popular in recent years. Low-carb diet minimizes the intake of carbohydrates and maximizes the consumption of food that is high in protein and fat.
Carbohydrates are the main source of body fuel. Our digestive system breaks down carbs into blood sugar (glucose) that enters our bloodstream. Our body releases insulin to help blood sugar enter body cells. Extra glucose is converted into fat.
The idea behind the low-carb diet is that by decreasing carbs we lower insulin levels in our body. Our body starts burning the stored fat for energy that eventually leads to weight loss. Average low-carb diets allow 50–150 grams of carbs per day, high amount of protein, and moderate-to-high amount of fat.
Ketogenic diet is a very restrictive form of low-carb diet.
It usually allows only 30–50 grams of carbs per day, combined with a very high fat intake. This extreme reduction in carbs puts your body into a metabolic state called ketosis when in absence of sufficient amount of glucose, our body starts using fat as the main source of energy. Ketosis is a point when your body becomes very efficient at burning fat for energy.
The ketodiet usually means reduction or even complete elimination of the following foods from your diet: sugary foods, including soda drinks, fruit juices, smoothies, cakes, ice cream, etc., grains and starches, almost all fruit except small portions of berries, beans or legumes, root vegetables, condiments or sauces containing sugar, alcohol, and certain highly processed sugar-free and low-fat foods.
Along with restricting the above-mentioned foods, ketodiet increases the consumption of the following types of food: meat, including red meat and poultry, fatty fish, eggs, butter and cheese, nuts and seeds, healthy oils, avocados, and low-carb vegetables, including green veggies, tomatoes and peppers. Spices like salt and pepper and various healthy herbs are allowed.
Is keto diet while breastfeeding safe?
The current scientific research has very little information about the possible impact of ketodiet on breastfeeding. Current studies report only indirect associations between ketodiet and different aspects of breastfeeding. Therefore, there is no one clear answer to whether ketodiet is safe during breastfeeding. Recommendations may vary depending on who you ask.
One study performed in 2009 compared a low-carb-high-fat diet to a high-carb-low-fat diet among breastfeeding women. The results showed that daily milk production and intake remained the same during both diets. However, the breast milk of mothers on low-carb-high-fat diet had higher fat concentration and energy content than the milk of mothers on low-fat-high-carb diet. The study concluded that the breast milk of mothers following a low-carb-high-fat diet would be able to supply the babies with required nutrients and energy.
Dietitians against keto diet usually mention the risk of ketoacidosis – acute insulin deficiency – among breastfeeding mothers. Breastfeeding mothers usually lose around 30 grams of sugar daily to produce milk. Theoretically, compared to others, they are at a higher risk of developing ketoacidosis, if their intake of carbs becomes dangerously low. One study concluded that breastfeeding could be a triggering factor of ketoacidosis, especially among women with inadequate food and water intake.
Nutritionists with more cautious approach to keto diet usually advise women to be extra mindful of nutrients and calories in their diet, if they are breastfeeding. Many would advise against very strict low-carb diets, including keto diet, but would accept a diet that allows at least 50 grams of carbs per day. Although the risk of negative consequences of a keto diet is low, they think there is no reason to take unnecessary risks.
Tips for breastfeeding women following a keto diet
There are five essential recommendations that a woman on a keto diet while breastfeeding should follow:
- Start the keto diet early. In the beginning of a keto diet, your body will need some adjustment period. You may start experiencing flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, headache, irritability, brain fog, lack of motivation, dizziness, sugar cravings and nausea. Starting earlier will help you avoid these symptoms while you are improving your breastfeeding technique.
- Avoid dehydration. An average breastfeeding woman produces about 1 liter of breast milk a day and needs more water than an average non-breastfeeding woman. On the other hand, keto diet requires extra hydration to keep your electrolytes balanced. This means that you will need to drink more water than before having a baby.
- Ensure your keto diet while breastfeeding includes necessary nutrients and electrolytes. Consuming enough vitamins and minerals is extremely important to avoid negative side effects such as headaches and loss of energy. In order to be able to provide you baby with breast milk that contains all necessary vitamins and minerals, you will need to pay extra attention on the variety of food you consume.
- Consume enough calories and high quality fats. You will need a lot of energy to take care of your child and to produce milk. Many newborns may nurse around the clock, which means exhausting night waking and lack of sleep. Along with increasing the amount of fat, you will need to keep the share of saturated and trans fats low.
- Consume fiber and vegetables. Vegetables and fiber are important for your digestive system and therefore are important for your health.
Many nutritionists would advise you to postpone any diet until your baby’s breastfeeding and sleeping patterns become normalized. It is important that you get rest, sleep, and have enough time to prepare healthy food. However, if you want to do a keto diet while breastfeeding, it is likely safe for you and your baby. Make sure you follow the recommendations of your nutritionist and take the right amount of calories and nutrients.