My Advice On Breastfeeding While On The Keto Diet (As An IBCLC)

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 
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The keto diet has been all the rage for a few years now, and that doesn’t seem to be slowing down. If you aren’t familiar with it, the keto diet is basically low-carb dieting to the extreme. It’s a diet based mostly on protein and fats, with very little allowed carbs.

It’s not just bread that’s out, though. According to Healthline, you’re pretty much not allowed any fruits besides berries, and all starchy vegetables are no-no’s, including sweet potatoes and beets. Wowzers, right?

The thing is, many people say that the keto diet works like magic for weightloss, and many are singing its praises. Of course, whether these folks keep off the weight is a whole other story, since something like 80% to 97% of dieters end up gaining back any weight they lost within a few years.

If you’re a breastfeeding mom looking to lose some of your baby weight, you’ve likely considered the keto diet. It probably tops your list, in fact. But you’re also probably wondering if the diet is safe for you, your baby, and what impact it might have on your milk supply.

Just last year, former adult film start Jenna Jameson took to Instagram to share her experience with the diet.

“[I]s Keto ok while breastfeeding?” Jameson wrote. “From my experience it ABSOLUTELY is!”

Jameson went on to write that her milk supply was “healthy and strong” and that the popular idea that low-carb dieting kills a mom’s supply is “simply untrue.” Jameson added the caveat that breastfeeding moms should take their entry into the diet slowly, while continuing to monitor their milk supply.

Now, obviously one woman’s experience is not the same as a scientific study, and none of us should take medical advice from a celebrity. But it begs the question of how breastfeeding moms can find good info about the keto diet and how they should go about deciding whether or not to start it.

To answer your question, I’m going to put on my fancy International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) cap, and give you my best advice about breastfeeding while on the keto diet.

The first thing to note is that the keto diet and its effect on breastfeeding has actually not been studied as of yet. However, we do know in general that breastfeeding women have much higher caloric needs (they need about 1,800 calories, and most need more) than non-breastfeeding mom, especially when their babies are little, and it can be difficult to satisfy those needs when you are on any kind of restricted diet.

We also know that it is not recommended that moms start diets earlier than about 6-8 weeks postpartum, and that they should aim for losing weight slowly, no more than about 1-2 pounds a week.

There is one case study I know of where a breastfeeding mom who had adapted a low-carb diet was hospitalized with “non-diabetic ketoacidosis” (a serious and sometimes fatal medical condition usually associated with diabetes), but recovered with treatment. This is probably why many doctors and lactation professionals do not recommend any kind of extreme low-carb dieting.

My advice is that there is no major harm in limiting carbs, especially if you are not cutting them out completely. Cutting out empty carbs like white flour and processed sugar should not be an issue at all provided you are consuming enough calories and an overall nutritionally diverse diet. But I’m not sure I’d advise moms to follow a diet like keto to a “t,” because it’s easy to become too restricted on a diet like that, and possibly risk your health and well-being.

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In most cases, you are going to be the one who suffers the most if you adapt an incredibly restrictive diet. All women are different when they are breastfeeding; in my experience, some women are more likely than others to feel depleted when they restrict calories or adopt low-carb diets. I recommend that if you do start a low-carb diet like keto that you take things very slowly and modify the diet to add in more calories and as many complex carbs as possible.

In general, eating less isn’t going to directly impact your milk supply, especially if you don’t dip past the 1,500-1,800 calorie mark. However, if you are depleted and exhausted as a result of a dietary change, you are likely to experience a spike in stress, which is known to inhibit your milk letdown and decrease the amount of milk your little one takes in.

So, to keto or not to keto while breastfeeding?

The bottom line is that when done carefully, gradually, and with modifications, it is probably fine for most breastfeeding moms. Like with everything else, definitely talk to your doctor before beginning the diet.

All that said, I want to offer another perspective to breastfeeding moms as they consider how to lose the baby weight, and it’s this: You are totally fine and beautiful just the way you are.

Seriously, there is so much pressure these days to “get your body back” after having a baby. But that’s a load of horse shit. I know it is really hard to embrace the extra pounds that naturally come when you’ve just had a baby. But remember that it took nine months to put those pounds on, and it can, and should, take at least that long to shed them.

And the reality is that it’s a myth that breastfeeding makes all moms lose weight. Some do, but some just hold onto the weight until their babies are a little older and their caloric needs are not quite so high.

I like to think of those extra pregnancy/breastfeeding pounds as a soft little spot for babies to snuggle in. And honestly, some of us hold onto those baby bellies and baby thighs and baby arms for many years after our babies have left the womb. Heck, some of us are still sporting those baby pounds even after our babies have left the nest.

And you know what? That’s okay too.

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