The confirmed benefits of the keto diet are absolutely amazing, but is this eating regime for everyone? For instance, is it safe for nursing moms?A lot of women consider the option of going keto just to return to their pre-pregnancy weight as soon as possible, but most keto guidelines don’t focus much on the impact of this diet on lactation.
It turns out this question is far from being a simple one, so keep reading to learn all the truth.
A quick reminder: what is the keto diet?
Essentially, the ketogenic diet is all about following a certain ratio of macronutrients:
Fats - 70-75% of the daily caloric intake
Proteins - 20-25%
Carbohydrates - 5%
This is a crucial principle if you want to reach ketosis as fast as possible.
The ratio mentioned above has been proven to be the most effective in switching the human body from a carb-fueled to a fat-fueled metabolism. When deprived of carbohydrates, the body will transform dietary fats into ketone bodies and use them to fuel its physiological processes.
But does this affect breast milk production? Can you go keto without putting your baby’s nutrition at risk?
Keto and breastfeeding: what do we know at the moment?
When a nursing mom goes keto, part of her ketones will be excreted via breast milk, but here’s the important thing: it’s a confirmed fact that ketone bodies per se are absolutely safe for infants.
Moreover, there’s such a thing as special ketogenic formulas that are prescribed to babies with epilepsy, resulting in an outstanding reduction in seizure frequency. Some studies even highlight that the infant brain is four times more effective than the adult brain in utilizing ketones.
In other words, the question of going keto while breastfeeding is not about the baby’s health and safety. Rather than that, it’s a matter of how hard it will be for a mother to safely reach ketosis while maintaining breast milk supply at the same time.
Keto recommendations for nursing moms
Let’s get this straight: while keto is usually safe for the baby, it’s not entirely harmless for the mom.
Over the last decade, there were multiple cases of lactation ketoacidosis among breastfeeding women who either intentionally (strict diets, fasting) or unintentionally (concurrent diseases, appetite loss) entered a state of carb starvation.
Lactation ketoacidosis is rare in humans (it’s mostly a veterinary thing affecting lactating cows), and that’s why it’s never mentioned in official classifications of the condition. However, it’s still possible, and every nursing mom should know that before EVER attempting to go keto.
In order to avoid this dangerous state and maintain a good supply of milk, it’s important to follow this list of simple recommendations:
If you’re new to keto or haven’t practiced it in quite some time, give yourself plenty of time to get used to is. A sudden restriction in calorie and macronutrient intake can be extremely stressful for the body, and this might compromise both milk supply and general health.
Increase your calorie intake a bit.
Breastfeeding women need about 500 additional kcal per day in order to produce a healthy amount of breast milk. In terms of going keto, most of these should be derived from fat, but extra carbs are also recommended.
Increase your carbohydrate intake.
Human milk consists of about 6.9 to 7.2 percent carbohydrate (lactose), and just 3 to 5 percent fat. In other words, you absolutely need to increase your carb intake during lactation in order to ensure your health, maintain breast milk production, and avoid hitting lactation ketoacidosis. Specifically, we’re talking about at least an extra 50 g of net carbs on top of the keto-allowed 25 grams. Make sure to get these extra carbs from healthy sources like vegetables and fruit, never from something like candies or soft drinks.
Maintaining a healthy water balance is crucial both to ensure consistent milk supply AND to reach ketosis without having to deal with such nasty events like the keto flu.
Listen to your body.
Remember that during lactation your body is more vulnerable than usual, much more susceptible to external threats like respiratory infections. Going keto is also quite challenging. If, God forbid, you catch a bad cold during lactation AND while going keto - the cumulative stress of this events could prove to be too much, resulting in low milk supply and increasing the risk of ketoacidosis.
If you notice yourself feeling any of these symptoms during lactation, immediately consult a physician, especially if you’re currently on the ketogenic diet:
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and recurrent vomiting
- Fatigue and lethargy
- Shortness of breath
- Dizziness, headache
Support milk production with herbs
Substances that support and promote breast milk production are scientifically known as galactagogues. Some of them are absolutely natural and fairly effective, so don’t hesitate to try them out either as is or in form of supplements. The most popular and well-researched options include fenugreek, blessed thistle, milk thistle, and nettle.
The matter of keto and breastfeeding isn’t discussed much, but here’s what we know so far:
- Keto is absolutely safe for the babies.
- Keto is mostly safe for the moms, but there’s a minor chance of rare complications (lactation ketoacidosis). It’s crucial to follow certain recommendations (increase calorie intake, increase carb intake. etc.) to ensure optimal health and maintain milk supply.
- It’s possible to reach ketosis during lactation, but this will be MUCH harder to do because of the increased carb intake.
So, now that we’ve given you the facts, the final decision is all yours to make. In any case, make sure to think everything through (twice and thoroughly) or even consult a physician for a full-blown discussion.