In recent years, the keto diet has become a great weight loss trend with lots of people claiming it to be highly effective for losing weight. Many mothers wonder if they can use a keto diet while breastfeeding to lose the excess weight gained during pregnancy.
This article discusses the pros and cons of following a keto diet while breastfeeding along with some tips for following the diet with some modifications so as to ensure no harm to the mother and baby.
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What is a Keto Diet?
Keto or Ketogenic diet is a low carbohydrate, high-fat diet that is known to provide numerous health benefits.
It involves the consumption of mainly fats and a moderate amount of proteins while drastically reducing carbohydrate intake.
In a keto diet, 75 percent of the calorie intake is from fat, 20 percent from protein, and less than 5 percent from carbohydrates.
Such a diet puts the body in a metabolic state called ketosis where the body burns fat instead of carbohydrates for energy.
It also converts fat into ketones in the liver, which can provide energy to the brain.
Keto diets can cause a marked reduction in blood sugar and insulin levels. This, along with the increased ketones, has numerous health benefits. A keto diet can help a person to lose weight. Besides, it has also proved to be beneficial against several diseases including diabetes, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s disease, and even cancer.
Types of Keto Diets
There are different types of keto diets.
It involves eating very low carbohydrates (less than 50 grams per day). Some keto followers eat as few as 20 grams per day.
A high-fat, very-low-carbohydrate (less than 50 grams per day) diet is consumed for five to six days a week. On the seventh day or re-feed day, carbohydrates are consumed in higher quantities (about 150 grams).
The same ratio of fats, proteins, and carbs is followed as the regular keto diet, but it doesn’t matter where those macronutrients come from. This basically means that you can eat as much junk food as you like as long as you maintain the ratio of the keto diet.
The standard keto diet is followed. In addition, you can eat extra carbohydrates about half to one hour before a high-intensity workout. This extra glucose is to increase workout performance.
It involves the consumption of a high-fat diet with moderate amount of carbohydrates (100-150 grams per day). It works best for people who feel fatigued or face digestive issues with the standard keto diet. It is also better for women as an extreme restriction of carbohydrates can result in hormonal imbalance.
Is Keto diet safe during breastfeeding?
Losing the excess weight gained during pregnancy is a topmost priority for many women. Almost all young mothers would love to go back to their pre-pregnancy weight as quickly as possible. Although keto diet has been proven to be an effective weight loss diet program, there are several aspects that need to be considered before going on a keto diet during breastfeeding.
Areas of Concern if Following Keto Diet while Breastfeeding
The following are some areas of concern if you want to follow a keto diet while breastfeeding.
The high-fat content of the keto diet makes it very filling. So consumption of even fewer calories makes the person feel more satisfied. Breastfeeding, on the other hand, demands high-calorie intake. A breastfeeding mother must consume about 1800-2500 Kcal per day to meet the increased metabolic demands of the body. Low-calorie intake could result in low milk production.
Breastfeeding women should consume large quantities of fluid to maintain a good milk supply. When a person is on a keto diet, the liver produces chemical compounds called ketones. These ketones are used by the body for energy and then eliminated in the urine. Low carbohydrate intake and excess production of ketones lead to less retention of water in the body causing dehydration. Dehydration, in turn, can cause decreased milk output.
Not a balanced diet
Keto diet is not a balanced diet. It puts a restriction on healthy foods like whole grains and fruits. Fat-rich food is also not a healthy option for the body especially the heart in the long run. Marked reduction of carbohydrate-rich foods can cause a reduced intake of many vitamins and minerals (vitamin B and C, calcium, magnesium, chloride, and potassium), fiber, phytochemicals and antioxidants which are so vital for a breastfeeding mother. These nutrients form an essential component of mother’s milk and are also vital for the mother’s health.
Not good for intestinal health
Low intake of whole grains and fruits which are essential for providing fiber may result in poor intestinal health.
Lack of energy
The primary source of energy for the brain is glucose which is obtained from carbohydrates. Ketosis results in lower blood glucose levels thereby sending the body into starvation mode Lack of glucose can cause fatigue, brain-fogging, lack of energy, nausea, vomiting (keto flu) especially during the initial days of starting the diet when the body is still adjusting to using fats as a fuel. These symptoms can make it difficult for a mother to take care of her newborn baby.
Reduced milk supply
The additive effect of reduced calorie intake, dehydration and lack of essential nutrients may result in reduced milk production. Significant weight loss may also contribute to a reduction in milk supply.
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Harmful effects of ketones on the baby
Ketones which are produced in excess can pass through the breast milk and may negatively affect the baby. A baby’s brain grows at a rapid pace and forms important neural connections during the initial years that will remain in place throughout his or her life. The baby’s brain requires glucose to grow and develop. While the mother’s brain can get adapted to consume ketones rather than glucose for energy, the same can’t be said about the baby’s brain.
Some people claim that ketones do not pass through the mother’s milk into the baby’s body and even if they do, they don’t pose any danger to the baby. Though no definite studies have been performed, it is better to err on the side of caution.
Breastfeeding itself helps to lose weight
Breastfeeding itself helps to burn calories and lose weight. So it may not be a good idea to be on a keto diet to lose weight and reduce milk supply.
Keto Diet Is Safe While Breastfeeding- The Alternative View
Some proponents of keto diet argue that babies are born in a natural state of ketosis. Also, they remain in a ketogenic state throughout the breastfeeding period. Moreover, breast milk is composed of about 60% fat. Hence if the mothers follow a moderate ketogenic diet, it should not be a problem for the baby.
In addition, they say that a keto diet is actually a healthier option since it does not allow eating of unhealthy processed carbohydrates and convenience foods and encourages the consumption of vegetables.
Tips for Breastfeeding Mothers Who Want to Try a Keto Diet:
- It is better to wait for 6 months after your baby’s birth before going on a keto diet. This is because, before 6 months, the baby should be on exclusive breast milk. If not 6 months, it is advisable that the keto diet should not be started before the baby is at least 2 months old so that your milk supply is fully established by then.
- Keto diet can work if you make sure to consume enough calories (1800-2500 kcal per day) so that milk production is maintained.
- Reduce your calorie intake gradually (although not below 1800 kcal). A sudden drop in calorie intake will cause the body to enter into starvation mode, thereby drastically decreasing milk supply.
- Make sure to take adequate vitamins and minerals, either through other food items or through food supplements.
- Eat plenty of fiber-rich foods like vegetables to compensate for the decreased fiber intake of whole grains.
- You must keep a strict track of your calorie and nutrient intake.
- Consume more water to avoid dehydration.
- Make sure to consume at least 50 g of carbohydrates per day. It is best to adopt a moderate keto diet comprising of about 100- 150 g of carbohydrates per day.
- Keep an eye on your milk supply. The best way to judge this is by keeping a regular check on the baby’s weight. If the baby is not gaining adequate weight, it could mean that your body is producing less milk.
Dieting of any kind isn’t usually advisable for breastfeeding mothers who should ideally concentrate on consuming a well-balanced diet.
Still, if you want to be on a keto diet, you can follow it provided you eat a moderate amount of carbohydrates and consume adequate water, calories and nutrients.
It is best to consult a doctor who can help you to alter your diet safely.