The pressure to lose weight fast after giving birth can feel overwhelming. Especially for lactating mothers, it can be hard to balance your own weight loss goals with providing all the nourishment your baby needs. The keto diet has become very trendy in recent years for its potential rapid weight loss benefits. But is it safe to try a keto diet while breastfeeding?
While you might be eager to shed that baby weight, a strict ketogenic diet is not the best way to go about it for breastfeeding moms. Another diet, such as the Mediterranean diet or even paleo, might be a better option while you’re breastfeeding.
Is Keto Safe While Breastfeeding?
The keto diet is not safe for breastfeeding women. Breastfeeding puts increased metabolic demands on the body to produce milk with enough calories and the right micronutrients and macros to allow your baby to thrive.
The increased nutritional demands of producing milk on keto can lead to medical complications including severe ketoacidosis. There have been multiple medical case reports of life-threatening lactation ketoacidosis in women on keto while breastfeeding.
Can I Do Keto While Breastfeeding?
Although keto is usually safe for healthy individuals, it can cause serious problems for lactating mothers. Here are a few potential side effects of keto in breastfeeding women:
- Decreased milk supply.
- Imbalanced macros in breast milk.
- Slowed growth for your baby.
- Possible developmental effects for the baby into adulthood.
- Risk of life-threatening ketoacidosis.
What Impact Does Keto Diet Have On Breastfeeding Mothers?
In general, most people consider the keto diet safe, even though it may be uncomfortable at times. However, breast milk production puts extra metabolic stress on the body. The additional demands of producing breast milk put lactating people at an even higher risk of ketoacidosis, even for non-diabetic lactating women.
Diabetic ketoacidosis occurs when too many ketones build up in the body. Even for adults with overall good health and normal metabolism, there is always a risk of progressing from ketosis to dangerous ketoacidosis on the keto diet.
Additionally, any diet with a significantly limited carbohydrate intake can lead to dehydration. Because it takes a lot of water to produce enough milk, breastfeeding puts you at an even higher risk of becoming seriously dehydrated on keto.
The Effect Of Keto Diet On Milk Supply And Quality
A ketogenic diet may compromise the volume of your milk supply and even make your breast milk less nutritious. Because dehydration is a frequent side effect of living in a ketogenic state, decreased milk supply is a serious concern. You’re also limited from eating many non-keto foods that help boost milk supply and quality!
Clinical animal studies on mice and observations of dairy cows show that milk from mothers in ketosis does not have the same nutrient balance as milk produced on a normal diet. Milk from cows in ketosis has abnormally high fat and low protein and carbohydrate content.
Breast milk without enough carbs is a serious concern, as your baby’s developing brain thrives on glucose to create neurons and neural connections that will serve them for the rest of their life. They also need lots of protein for their rapidly growing bodies!
A ketogenic diet also limits many foods that contain important vitamins and minerals for your growing baby. Whether you’re on a low-carb diet or not, you should add a high-quality postnatal vitamin to your routine to ensure your baby gets all the nutrients they need!
The Impact Of Keto Diet On Embryo’s Organ Development
Although it is unethical to experiment on developing human embryos to observe how a low-carb, high-fat diet might impact a baby’s development, animal studies have proven that keto is not good for unborn babies. Gestational ketosis has been shown to damage a baby’s developing organs, make the baby undersized, and severely inhibit their neural development.
The impact on your baby’s developing brain is the most significant risk of going keto while pregnant. In animal trials, keto diet embryos developed with irregularly sized hearts, brains, and spinal cords.
Glucose is the primary energy source for the developing placenta as well as the fetus. The goal of keto is to induce ketosis, virtually eliminating glucose as an energy source and switching the body to burning fat as fuel, taking away the nutrients your baby needs most.
What Effect Does The Keto Diet Have On Baby Growth?
As discussed earlier, the keto diet may decrease your milk supply. However, this doesn’t happen in every case. While it’s possible to produce enough milk for some people on low-carb diets, the change to the nutrient balance in your milk is what can seriously affect your baby’s growth.
We also don’t know whether elevated ketones passing through breast milk could harm a baby. When ketones build up in the body, they can cause serious medical issues and even coma. We don’t have enough evidence one way or another at this time to prove whether ketones in breast milk could affect your baby’s body the same way.
What You Should Eat While Breastfeeding & Alternative Diets
Try not to put too much pressure on yourself to stick to a highly restrictive diet while you’re pregnant and breastfeeding. It’s okay to take simple steps like not eating too much sugary food and avoiding allergens that might be affecting your baby. Try to get a sufficient daily caloric intake to sustain your body, plus about 400 extra calories to account for the additional demands of milk production.
If you’re interested in an alternative diet during this time, here are a few considerations.
For breastfeeding moms as well as those trying to conceive or who are currently pregnant, intuitive eating may be the best approach for this phase of your life.
Rather than putting strict requirements and restrictions on how you nourish your body, intuitive eating focuses on honoring your body’s cues and rethinking your relationship to food. Intuitive eating has robust scientific support as a healthy approach to maintaining good nutrition and movement practices.
Improving your relationship with food now can also improve your child’s body image and eating habits later in life!
The Mediterranean diet is widely acknowledged among health professionals as an incredibly well-balanced diet. With a plant-based foundation including whole grains and plenty of fatty fish (great for your baby’s brain development), the Mediterranean diet includes a well-rounded assortment of so-called superfoods while minimizing highly processed foods and red meat.
Beyond just what foods you eat, a true Mediterranean diet also emphasizes sharing good times in the company of friends and loved ones over meals regularly, which can be essential for your mental health in early motherhood!
Unlike strict veganism or vegetarianism, a flexitarian diet is a primarily plant-based approach that allows some wiggle room to include animal proteins as needed. This approach is easier to follow for breastfeeding moms who may need more flexibility during this high-demand time!
The idea behind the paleo diet is to eat what early humans may have eaten. Because it emphasizes produce like sweet potatoes, leafy greens, and lots of fruit while eliminating processed foods and excess sugar, the paleo diet may be a good alternative to keto while breastfeeding.
However, paleo does not allow dairy products. Calcium is one of the major demands your breast milk needs to meet for your baby. If you’re not consuming adequate calcium, your body will dissolve whatever calcium sources it needs–meaning your own bones! So make sure you’re supplementing with calcium if you try paleo while breastfeeding.
Beyond affecting the volume of your milk supply, a low-carbohydrate diet can affect the balance of macros in your milk, possibly compromising your baby’s health. While it’s okay to want to lose weight after having a baby, safe dieting is essential for your breastfed baby, as well as your own health during this brief time of your child’s life!
Weight gain is a normal part of a healthy pregnancy, and breastfeeding is a temporary part of your life that will be over before you know it. Prioritize a healthy, balanced diet during this brief time in your life, and give yourself a little compassion as you adjust to your life with this new little person.
Weight loss can wait!
Frequently Asked Questions
No, it is not safe to eat a keto diet while nursing. Breastfeeding on a keto diet can cause serious, even life-threatening metabolic complications for the lactating parent and possible nutrient deficiencies for the baby.
Animal studies show that a ketogenic diet may affect a developing embryo’s organs, brain, and spinal cord, as well as their overall growth. At this time, it is not recommended to follow a keto diet while pregnant.
Taking a postnatal vitamin and eating a balanced diet will help ensure your baby gets all the nutrients, vitamins, and minerals they need to support healthy growth during their first months of life.
+ 7 Sources
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