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The ketogenic diet, more commonly referred to as the Keto diet, is currently a popular weight loss technique. Many women desire to get their pre-baby body back after giving birth. However, they would also like to continue nursing. Begging the question, is going on the Keto diet while breastfeeding safe?
What is the Keto Diet
The Keto diet is similar to the once highly popular Atkin’s diet of the past. It is based on a low-carb, high-fat intake and promises to put your body in a ketogenic state when strictly adhered to. We are here to talk about the compatibility of the keto diet alongside breastfeeding, but first, you must understand the diet itself.
What is a ketogenic state? Also known as ketosis, it is when your body uses fat stores for energy rather than glucose, the result is ketones in the blood. Ketosis is a naturally occuring metabolic process, though in today’s day and age it is not one that our body frequently relies on.
When your body does not have enough insulin or blood glucose, it begins to break down stored fat for energy. A buildup of ketones, or acid, results. The Keto diet works to try and force your body into ketosis, so instead of using glucose from carbohydrates, you have ingested your body must break down stored fat.
Oddly enough, ketosis is most commonly seen transpiring in diabetic patients who are not using it as a dietary exercise. When too many acidic ketones build up in the blood your body can enter ketoacidosis, which can be lethal.
The glucose, or sugar, your body typically breaks down for energy comes from starchy foods (carbohydrates) such as pasta and bread and sugars found in fruits and yogurts. These glucose molecules either provide your body with energy or are stored for later use.
When you cut out the foods that naturally contain glucose, your body has to look for an alternative energy source. Your body will then turn to break down stored fat, and this is the foundation of the Keto diet.
The Keto diet tries to limit carb and sugar intake to around 5%, with 75 % of your diet composed of fats and the remaining 20% composed of proteins. By starving your body of glucose you are trying to coerce it into ketosis.
The Keto diet has been known to contribute to short term weight loss, but ketosis is notoriously hard to maintain. Many of the foods you can eat on the Keto diet are filling, so you won’t feel as if you are depriving yourself. However, your food choices are still limited.
Meat, fatty fish, cheese, butter, cream, and eggs are predominant foods advised in the Keto diet and good things to eat while breastfeeding. In addition, those on the diet can consume nuts and seeds, avocados, healthy oils, low carb veggies, and some condiments.
Commonly Recommended Foods:
- Meat: ham, steak, chicken, bacon
- Fatty fish: Tuna and Salmon
- Cheese: Unprocessed cheddar, mozzarella or goat
- Butter and cream
- Eggs: Omega-3 eggs
- Nuts and seeds: Chia, walnuts, almonds, flax
- Healthy oils: Avocado oil, EVOO, or coconut oil
- Low-carb veggies: Green veggies in addition to onions, pickles, and tomatoes
- Condiments: salt and pepper
Foods to avoid include mainly carbs or foods with high sugar content. This includes natural sugars such as those found in fruits. Carbs and sugars are often found in starchy foods or processed foods as well.
Commonly Not Recommended Foods:
- Beans: kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas
- Sugary foods: candy, soda pop, ice cream, sweets
- Grains & Starches: bread, pasta, cereal
- Fruit: all fruit, though some allow small amounts of berries
- Root Veggies: tubers, potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes
- Unhealthy Fats: mayonnaise and vegetable oils
The list of allowable foods is quite generous for the Keto diet. This means you should not have trouble creating meals, snacks, or finding options at restaurants. However, many people find that the initial switch to a low-carb/high-fat diet can be a shock to their system.
Additionally, it may be hard to maintain this style of eating for long periods. Maintaining ketosis does not allow for occasional “cheat days” like many other diets. Some side effects of the Keto diet include “Keto flu”, fatigue, muscle loss, bad breath, smelly urine, and digestion issues.
The Toll Breastfeeding Takes on Your Body
When you are breastfeeding your body is producing food for another human being. It is understandable then that your body burns more energy and requires calories.
When breastfeeding, you need approximately 200-500 additional calories each day. This is based on a 2000 calorie diet and will vary based on your weight, height, and activity level.
This caloric increase is especially true in the early stages of breastfeeding when as your baby’s only nutrient source you are likely nursing eight to twelve times a day. As your baby grows and is able to eat more solid foods you will nurse less and will likely need to consume less extra calories.
If you are eating a healthy and well-balanced diet, the addition of extra calories should not cause you to gain weight as they will be burned off by making breastmilk and breastfeeding. It is quite common for women to find that breastfeeding actually helps them shed the pounds despite consuming a few extra calories.
If you do try to cut calories to lose weight, it could affect your milk supply. During this time, nourishing your baby is the most important thing. If your body senses that it is fighting for energy due to a lack of calories from food it will try to preserve itself. In most cases, this means cutting back on breastmilk production.
Are the Keto Diet and Breastfeeding Compatible?
It is understood that it is not beneficial to go on an extreme diet or try to cut calories while breastfeeding. But the Keto diet emphasizes a large intake of high-fat foods even if it does exclude carbs. Therefore, it may seem like breastfeeding and the Keto diet may be compatible.
Furthermore, there does not seem to be any evidence that low-carb diets affect milk supply or quality. However, most lactation consultants and pediatricians would not recommend anything other than a balanced and well-rounded diet during breastfeeding.
The high-fat foods recommended by Keto are quite filling and may cause you to eat less throughout the day and not obtain your caloric intake goal, leading to a decrease in milk supply. Another factor affecting production is hydration. Ketosis can be dehydrating for the body due to the release of ketones in the blood and their expulsion through urine.
Overall, the Keto diet does have some health risks not directly associated with breastfeeding. If not followed closely and advised by a nutritionist or physician the Keto diet may increase your risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Eating copious amounts of high-fat foods may raise cholesterol levels. One study cited low-carb diets as a link to higher risks of dying from cardiovascular conditions, cancer, and all other causes. Not to mention the initial unpleasant side effects and havoc the Keto diet can have on your system for three to four weeks.
What’s the Verdict on Keto and Breastfeeding?
It remains to be seen if dieting and breastfeeding are compatible. Making drastic changes to your diet while breastfeeding may not be the best idea, especially if there is a chance it could affect your milk supply for your precious little one. If you are considering trying to lose weight while breastfeeding it is best to consult a physician.
Please keep in mind that your body did an incredible thing; grew a beautiful tiny human! Now it is doing another incredible thing and providing all the nourishment that tiny human needs. So, I totally get wanting to “get back to normal” but you should also know that you are more than good enough just the way you are.
If you are looking for some mamas to share your journey with, please reach out and join us over at the Rookie Mom Facebook Group!
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