Here’s What Research Says About Keto While Breastfeeding
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Here’s What Research Says About Keto While Breastfeeding

Can you do keto while breastfeeding? Here’s the current research and helpful tips for following a ketogenic diet while nursing your baby.

Keto while breastfeeding

Did you know that soon after babies are born they enter a natural state of ketosis?

Yep, you read that right — research shows that newborn infants are in ketosis and remain in this normal, healthy state while breastfeeding[*][*].

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[*].

However, the details of the study are important. First of all, it was a really small study of women and their infants — just seven. They were studied on two occasions in random order for 8 days, separated by one to two weeks.

On one occasion, the women were given what the researchers call a high-fat, low-carb diet. But it’s highly unlikely this diet resulted in a state of ketosis (30% carbs and 55% fat whereas most low-carb or keto diets consist of fewer than 10% carbohydrates).

On the other occasion, they received a higher-carb, low-fat diet (60% of energy from carbs and 25% from fat). The study doesn’t take food quality into account.

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.

Another 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.

You can also try to track your daily milk production. There are a couple of ways to do this.

One way is to pump and feed 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. Also, note that many women avoid strictly pumping because it can lead to a decrease in milk production. But every mom and baby are different.

Another way to check how much milk you’re producing is to put baby on an infant scale before and after each feeding and note the difference.

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.

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18 thoughts on “Here’s What Research Says About Keto While Breastfeeding

  1. Is it safe to consume Perfect Keto Base while breastfeeding? I like to add a scoop of it, and the collagen powder, to shakes in the early mornings before feeding our twins!

  2. I’m a breastfeeding mother following a low carb diet (phase one of the South Beach diet). Today is just my fourth day, but I’m down almost 7lbs.
    I do consume more carbs than recommended because my liquid vitamin supplement & b-vitamin energy drink contains sugar, I still use almond milk in my coffee and I eat fruit at lunch with my students. I’ve been drinking between 96-150 oz of water/water-based beverages.
    My 3 month old baby actually seems more energetic during the day and is sleeping more solidly at night.
    I did notice that my milk supply dipped. Usually I can pump 6 ounces while she nurses the alternate breast, but the last few days it has been closer to four.
    I’m not worried, she is still producing enough wet and soiled diapers, for sure!

  3. If you are a brand new mom reading this article, please do not pump exclusively for a few days to “track” your milk production. This can and will utterly destroy your supply. With all due respect to the author, this is terrible advice and needs to be revised. Please talk to a lactation consultant about how to track your milk production. Or search on Kellymom.com.

  4. Jessica,
    My daughter was very sick when she was born. She had to be in the NICU. I pumped for her. I exclusively pump for her now at 5 months and my supply was fine until I started low carb.
    Pumping will not destroy your supply.

  5. Some ladies can’t relax enough to pump sufficiently, therefore going to pumping from nursing is a bad idea! My sister in law lost her supply in just 4 days because of that!

  6. Due to latch issues I had to exclusively pump for a whole year. I pumped every 2-3 hours consistently (even woke up the wee hours of the morning to pump) until I knew how many ounces my baby needed. Consistency and mimicking the feeding schedule of a newborn will help your supply when pumping. Pumping will not destroy your supply. When pumping 8 to 10x a day, you only need to pump for 15 mins. As you decrease your pumping, you have to increase the time – so I when I got down to pumping 4x a day, I pumped for 40-45 mins. I had so much milk I had to buy a bigger deep freezer and donate my milk 3x to make space. I was able to feed my child breast milk until she was 2 years old. Don’t believe pumping will destroy your supply.

  7. Yes, if there is a medical emergency then being able to pump can be a great solution, but tracking your milk supply does not qualify as such. Pumping exclusively could disrupt the breastfeeding relationship- remember these moms would like to go back to breastfeeding after the few days of pumping. Just don’t do it, and like Jessica said, read kellymom.com on everything related to milk supply.

  8. As a registered nurse and an experienced breastfeeding mom, I would not recommend “strictly pumping” if you can avoid it. While some women do not have any issues with it, not everyone is the same. Your production may plummet or stay the same. If you want to check how much your baby has fed, put them on an infant scale before and after each feeding. If you want to pump, pump and if you want to nurse then nurse.

  9. Hi, my baby is 8 months now. And is on 3 solid meals per day. I’m still breastfeeding him and he is refusing formula. How do you think a low calorie diet would effect my milk supply ? I’m targeting around 1000 calories with a fast interval of 14 hours per day.

    1. Hi Imasha, this is definitely a question for your physician, but in general, it’s not a good idea to restrict calories when you’re breastfeeding.

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