Rachel Gregory is a Board-Certified Nutritionist specializing in the science/application of the ketogenic diet for weight loss, performance and overall health
Did you know that soon after babies are born they enter a natural state of ketosis?
Furthermore, research confirms that breast milk from healthy mothers is actually made up of 50-60% fat, and the cholesterol in breast milk supplies babies with almost six times the amount that most adults consume in their diets [*].
So, if babies are naturally born in ketosis and benefit from using fat and ketones for fuel, then why would it be an issue for a breastfeeding mother to follow a ketogenic diet/lifestyle?
What Does the Research Say About Keto While Breastfeeding?
Unfortunately, the current scientific literature surrounding the ketogenic diet and breastfeeding is extremely limited.
However, one study performed in 2009 compared a low-carbohydrate, high fat (LCHF) diet to a high-carbohydrate, low fat (HCLF) diet in breastfeeding women[*].
Results from this study showed the following:
- Regardless of the diet, daily breast milk production and daily infant breast milk intake remained the same.
- Neither diet had an effect on milk lactose or protein concentration; however, milk fat concentration and the energy content of milk were higher during the LCHF diet than the HCLF diet.
- Infants’ energy intake (kcal/day) was higher during the LCHF diet than during the HCLF diet.
- The estimated average maternal energy expenditure and the sum of maternal energy expenditure plus milk energy content were higher during the LCHF diet than during the HCLF diet.
Based on these results, researchers concluded that breastfeeding mothers could lose more weight while consuming a LCHF diet than a HCLF diet without affecting milk production and still supplying their babies with the nutrients and energy needed for proper development.
Additionally, a literature review from 2016 looked at the evidence of the impact of maternal nutrition on breast milk composition and concluded that:
“The available information on this topic is scarce and diversified. Most of the evidence currently used in clinical practice to make recommendations is limited to studies that only reported indirect associations” [*].
Based on this information, there is no reason why a breastfeeding mother would not be able to follow a ketogenic diet and lifestyle.
Although there are some anecdotal reports that some mothers have had reductions in milk production after going keto, this is most likely due to factors such as dehydration, lack of adequate calories or nutrients, and possible lack of adjustment in cases of rapid carbohydrate restriction.
Tips For Successful Breastfeeding While Following a Ketogenic Diet
Breastfeeding your baby is important, and most mothers don’t want to do anything that might risk their supply. We’ve already seen that you can follow a ketogenic lifestyle while breastfeeding (and it could even help you shed some of the baby weight), but you need to do it properly. Here’s how.
#1: Start Keto Early
When you first start keto, your body needs to go through an adjustment period, and you may feel flu-like symptoms. This is called the “keto flu” and if you’ve never experienced it before, you may feel as if there’s something wrong.
You don’t want to have to go through this adjustment period while you’re trying to learn the particular art of breastfeeding, so if you’re not already nursing your baby, don’t wait until you are pregnant or breastfeeding — start keto now so that your body has time to learn how to efficiently use fat and ketones for fuel.
Plus, keto has been shown in many cases to increase the likelihood of getting pregnant and contribute to an overall healthier lifestyle.
#2: Avoid Dehydration
One of the biggest culprits of scarce milk supply is not drinking enough water throughout the day.
Drinking lots of water is extremely important to produce sufficient milk for any breastfeeding mother – especially those that are keto due to the higher excretion of water from less carbohydrate intake.
Your body uses extra water to produce breast milk and heal from labor and delivery. Pair that with the hydration necessary to keep your electrolytes balanced on the ketogenic diet and you’ll see you need to drink more water than you thought you needed; certainly more than before you had your baby.
#3: Don’t Forget Your Nutrients and Electrolytes
Consuming enough vitamins and minerals is extremely important to avoid any negative side effects such as headaches, loss of energy, or light headedness.
Check out this article for a more in depth look at the different vitamins and minerals needed to make up a well-formulated ketogenic diet.
#4: Consume Enough Calories, Especially High Quality Fats
It is important to make sure you have a steady supply of energy throughout the day for both yourself and your baby.
Consuming an adequate amount of calories and enough good quality fats will be another key to producing healthy quantities of milk and fueling both yourself and your baby. Refer to this article for a list of high quality fats to incorporate into your diet.
#5: Consume Enough Fiber and Vegetables
Getting enough vegetables and fiber is extremely important for both your health and the health/development of your baby.
Make sure you are consuming lots of vegetables to ensure adequate intake of certain phytochemicals and antioxidants.
If you don’t have time to prepare veggies (because honestly, taking care of a baby is time consuming!) use a greens supplement to nourish yourself.
#6: Try A Moderate Low-Carb Diet Rather Than Strict Keto
If you’re having trouble producing adequate milk, try starting with 50-75 grams of carbs per day and slowly lower the carbs each day (say 5-10 grams) and track how it affects your milk supply.
Make sure you are getting your carbs from healthy sources such as lots of vegetables, nuts and seeds and berries.
Avoid bread, pasta, and other refined carbage (carbs + garbage = carbage).
#7: Track Your Food/Drink Consumption And Daily Milk Production
Use an app such as MyFitnessPal or MyMacros+ to keep track of the foods and drinks you are consuming — this will make it easier to track your calorie and fat consumption as it relates to how much milk you are producing each day so you can adjust accordingly.
Also try to track your daily milk production. This might mean pumping and feeding your baby expressed breast milk for a couple of days. You can use an app like Baby Connect to track your production.
Do remember however that babies extract more milk than a pump, and the quality of your breast pump also impacts your output.
Just like with any diet — even the ketogenic diet — there is no “one size fits all” approach. If you listen to your body and implement the tips outlined above, you will be on the right track to a healthy and fulfilling breastfeeding journey.