You’ve made it through the ups and downs of pregnancy, and your baby has arrived; life is forever changed.
The incredible nature of the human, female body is amazing—one with a sublingual form of communication all its own, aligned and perfectly synchronized to care for your newborn.
Hopefully, you’ve decided in favor of breastfeeding your baby; you’re probably wondering what you need to know about breastfeeding on a keto diet.
We will delve into the most critical factors to consider when preparing to breastfeed baby while on a low-carb, high-fat diet below.
Ketosis - Our First Metabolic State
This may come as a surprise to some, but ketosis is more than the centerpiece of a low-carb lifestyle that's currently dominating attention and acclaim in the health community; it’s our first metabolic state as newborns.
Furthermore, expectant moms generally enter a state of ketosis with greater frequency leading up to and immediately following giving birth to a child.
Our brains and bodies love healthy fats, and this is particularly true as it relates to a growing and developing baby.
Not only does a fetus thrive on the maternal, exogenous ketones produced by mom when she is fat-adapted; baby begins to create its own ketones, particularly nearing the end of pregnancy, to use as developmental building blocks and as a source of optimal energy.
The Research For Breastfeeding on a Keto Diet
The ketogenic diet is known for its benefits related to cognitive development, function, and endurance, and this is particularly important for babies whose brains and bodies are rapidly developing and growing once they’re born.
While glucose plays a role in brain function and development, maintaining a fat-fueled state is most beneficial following birth.
Keep in mind, even breastmilk is quite ketotic, despite its naturally-occurring sugars—it’s nutritionally formatted in a way that’s ideal to support ketosis, especially when a baby is breastfed exclusively.
Exclusive breastfeeding, for at least six months after birth, has shown to offer some developmental and metabolic benefits to both mom and baby. Babies are aptly able to use ketones as fuel and also use the state of ketosis to facilitate the healthy formation of the brain and neurological system.
Furthermore, ketosis also provides various favorable impacts on cellular metabolism in many tissues to support the generation of viable muscle tissue—all of which are essential for a growing baby.
Tips For Successful Breastfeeding on a Keto Diet
If you’ve been considering breastfeeding your little one but feel a bit unsure of how to go about it successfully, keep reading because we have some tips to share below that should help:
#1: Get an Early Headstart on Keto
We recently shared a post to discuss best practices for implementing a ketogenic diet as an expectant mom, from prenatal and pregnancy modifications to maintaining keto once the baby is born.
A key takeaway from all we reviewed about the ketogenic diet during pregnancy is that it is best to start the eating protocol before conceiving, so the body has time to adjust to a state of ketosis.
This way the body isn’t overly taxed as it would be if you were trying to achieve ketosis while experiencing all the hormonal changes often associated with pregnancy and becoming fat-adapted, simultaneously.
Also, ketosis and living a lifestyle low in carbs and rich in healthy fats aids in the improved fertility and reproductive health of both men and women.
The benefits that keto offers with hormone regulation, enhanced brain function, and overall optimal physical performance all contribute to improved odds of conceiving.
Just note, adjusting to a ketogenic diet is something to consider as a part of your initial pre-natal plan to lay the groundwork for a gentle transition to pregnancy which will, in and of itself, present many physiological changes.
Also, entering pregnancy in a state of ketosis helps regulate hormones and glucose, both of which are imperative supports during pregnancy.
#2: Stay Hydrated
Remaining hydrated is essential regardless of whether you are looking to start a family; however, staying hydrated is paramount when breastfeeding as mom loses an increased amount of water to produce breastmilk to nourish her baby.
While the quantity of water mom consumes hasn’t proven to impact the quality or quantity of breastmilk directly; insufficient hydration can have unfavorable effects on mom’s health, and we want mom as healthy as possible so she can focus on caring for her newborn baby’s needs.
Breastmilk is approximately 87% water, and lactation draws out increased levels of maternal body water and nutrients, which makes consistent supplementation crucial.
Mom's milk initially provides the baby with hydration via her "first milk" during a feeding session, and then the latter portion of the fluid is fattier and nutrient dense to satiate the baby.
It's also worth noting, as a broad gauge, that most breastfeeding moms will produce an average amount of breastmilk per feeding for one child, of about 750 mL/d if exclusively breastfeeding.
So when breastfeeding, it’s important to remember that the goal is to replenish maternal body water for mom’s hydration as well as to support sufficient breastmilk production.
As is the case in almost every respect, once a baby arrives they become the priority, and this is reflected in nature as well.
The body pulls maternal body water and nutrients to nourish the baby, even if to the detriment of mom in cases where mom isn’t replenishing to compensate for the healthy production of breastmilk and adequate nutrition to support her well-being as well as that of her growing child.
#3: Focus on Nutrients and Electrolytes
Those who are already on a ketogenic diet when they conceive know the importance of supplementing nutrients and electrolytes on a ketogenic diet because of the natural loss of water, nutrients, and electrolytes that occurs when we drastically reduce carbohydrates in our diet.
The need to supplement in this area is most important, though, during pregnancy when women lose the most nutrients and electrolytes as they grow their unborn child.
In addition to sharing your nutrients and electrolytes with your baby in utero, you may also notice that something else is contributing to maternal water and electrolyte loss. You may be peeing all the time—practically living in the bathroom, especially toward the latter stages of pregnancy when the baby is bearing down on your bladder.
Dehydration and an electrolyte imbalance can lead to some issues during pregnancy, including the onset of Braxton Hicks—a form of pre-term labor. The following are some indicators that you may need to increase your nutrient and electrolyte intake:
Although a lack of electrolytes doesn’t cause morning sickness, or what some of us moms may know as all-day sickness, especially in the first trimester, ugh—but the electrolytes and fluid lost during morning sickness will need to be replenished throughout the day.
Many women who suffer from headaches, or even cramping, during pregnancy do so as a result of dehydration and electrolyte deficiencies. If you’re feeling achy, it may be a sign that you need to replenish your body.
If you are consuming adequate amounts of fiber and are still unable to have regular bowel movements, dehydration may be to blame. Sufficient amounts of fluids and electrolytes will both aid in healthier digestion and proper elimination.
The most uncomfortable condition of hemorrhoids is a total party pooper and is usually associated with constipation; some women experience when electrolyte and fluid deficient during pregnancy.
Electrolytes help to transport fluid in the body efficiently, and although swelling during pregnancy is relatively common, the swelling will be more prevalent during pregnancy if mom’s electrolytes and fluid intake are insufficient.
Elevated blood pressure can appear in various iterations during pregnancy and may have multiple detrimental effects on mom and baby if unregulated.
Some moms-to-be experience gestational diabetes, which tends to appear after the 20th week of pregnancy. This is when doctors will typically test the mother to check for any excess protein in her urine.
However, a protein-free urine test does not necessarily mean you are off the hook.
Other women may experience chronic hypertension or pre-existing high blood pressure that’s worsened by pregnancy, again, around week 20.
It’s imperative to monitor blood pressure during pregnancy as elevated levels can have some adverse effects related to the health and development of mom and baby. Placental abruption, a potentially devastating condition can occur, where the placenta separates from the inner wall of the uterus, which can cause heavy bleeding and be life-threatening to mom and baby.
Also, high blood pressure can decrease much-needed blood flow to the placenta and cause premature delivery.
Furthermore, maternal high blood pressure can result in slowed or decreased growth of a fetus and can impede the healthy development of a baby’s lungs, heart, brain, and other vital organs.
You may have heard that if you wait to feel thirsty, you’re probably already dehydrated to some level, and it's true.
You’ll want to hold steadfast to that concept and add to it that excessive and persistent feelings of thirst, especially if you are consuming adequate fluids, is likely an indication of a lack of electrolytes.
Also, it’s important to consult your doctor if experiencing excessive feelings of thirst during pregnancy because this symptom can be indicative of an issue with glucose regulation, and insulin resistance, possibly in the form of gestational diabetes, another condition mom will need to monitor closely to promote a healthy pregnancy.
Lastly, investing time and energy in a comprehensive fluid and electrolyte regimen is particularly beneficial regarding the abundant production of nutrient-rich breastmilk.
Steer clear of sugary faux electrolyte beverages like Gatorade and go for a concentrated source of electrolytes like Hydrolyte, or any other proper sports electrolyte.
#4: Increase Caloric Intake, Especially Quality Fats
The types of fats we eat matter for our health and the quality of the breastmilk we produce.
Opt for healthy omega-3s, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in your daily meal plan found abundantly in foods like salmon, nuts and seeds, avocado and quality vegetable oils (e.g., coconut, olive, avocado, grapeseed, et al.).
The healthy fats mom consumes appear to translate and are present in mom’s breastmilk to nourish a growing baby, choose wisely.
Also, you can express the foremilk we mentioned earlier, that's more watery, the first milk when the breasts are more engorged, and feed the baby the hindmilk more frequently which is known to have a significantly higher fat content—perfect for baby’s developing body and brain.
#5: Don’t Decrease Calories Drastically or Quickly
You and baby need a considerable amount of nutritional, postpartum support and it's not the time to restrict calories.
Focus on eating generous amounts of healthy fats, moderate quantities of muscle-building proteins and slightly higher carbs than a traditional (strict) keto diet, keeping carbs around 50-75 total grams per day.
Save the first trimester of pregnancy, rife with morning sickness and reduced appetite due to often feeling nauseated; there should be no intentional caloric restriction during pregnancy.
Trust your body, eat when you’re hungry, and focus on getting the densest nutrition possible.
#6: Consume Enough Fiber and Vegetables
I think we are clear by now that consuming high levels of healthy fats is essential, but it’s just as vital to mind intake of fiber and low-glycemic vegetables.
Top a bed of buttered leafy greens, like kale, with some pan-seared salmon, or broil some broccoli in grass-fed butter to get in enough of the many complex nutrients your growing baby needs to thrive.
Leafy green and cruciferous vegetables provide a fantastic nutrient profile that’s full of many nutrients needed by mom and her growing baby: vitamins A, C, K, iron, folate, and potassium to name a few.
Also, again, consuming enough fiber can help to prevent constipation and subsequent, uncomfortable hemorrhoids.
#7: Opt for Moderate Keto over Strict Keto
Mom and baby need a healthy amount of macronutrients and micronutrients to facilitate proper growth and development, and in the case of women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, eating slightly higher amounts of carbs can be helpful to round out mom and baby’s nutrition and levels of satiety.
Select vegetables and some fruits, like berries that are rich in vitamins, nutrients, and antioxidants. Think of food as fuel, which it is, and eat to ensure that you and baby can thrive, thanks to adequate nutrition and hydration.
You’ll find your ideal carb intake while breastfeeding with a little trial and error, but a total carb limit between 50g and 75g a day, with an overall caloric ceiling of around 1,800 calories, is an excellent guideline to support a viable pregnancy in a healthy woman, experiencing a healthy pregnancy.
#8: Track Macros & Milk Production
Measuring and logging your food intake concerning breastmilk production is essential to give you an idea of how your body responds to your food and fluid intake to ensure you’re doing your part to supply adequate, quality milk for your growing baby.
Mom will want to add between 300-500 extra calories a day immediately following the birth of her baby and supplement an extra 100-300 calories a day as breastfeeding skyrockets your metabolism.
It’s important to eat enough, and eat with the goal being to supply yourself and baby with essential nutrients, fluids, and electrolytes. You may want to use a macro calculator like the one provided here.
Again, tracking your macros and monitoring the volume of your milk output may prove helpful if you find you need to tweak your diet to help support baby’s feeding demands.
#9: Taking Pregnancy Prenatals on a Keto Diet
Prenatal vitamins are essential, but it is necessary to source an option free of added sugars and fillers.
There’s no real one-size-fits-all prenatal supplementation recommendation to offer because every woman’s nutritional needs will vary.
Consult your physician regarding your dietary needs and then diligently seek out brands that are keto-friendly so that you don’t compromise a state of regulated blood sugar for the sake of getting nutrients—we can and should do both at the same time for our health and that of our babies.
#10: Don’t Do Intermittent Fasting
While intermittent fasting has a variety of benefits for the average person, it’s not appropriate during pregnancy when it’s most important to listen to your hunger cues and ensure that you and baby are getting enough nutrients for growth.
When it comes down to it, we all fast for periods every day, specifically between our last meal of the day and the first meal the following day when we break our fast.
However, more extended and intensive forms of fasting where one refrains from food for 24-hours or longer is not advised during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
You may consider a more flexible eating window restriction protocol, a fast, like a 16/8 iteration where you have an 8-hour eating window during each day, say 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., where you are in a feeding state.
After 7 p.m., you would then 'turn your plate down' until the following day and enter a much gentler form of a fasted state for 16 hours, mostly while you rest overnight.
It’s always best to consult with your doctor, especially if you have a pre-existing medical condition, to determine the best feeding schedule for your personal needs.
Ultimately: it’s not only perfectly fine to eat a modified ketogenic diet while breastfeeding, but it can also be an ideal way to nourish your baby.
A high-fat diet with adequate amounts of protein and low-glycemic carbohydrates is an excellent choice to provide mom and her new baby boy or girl with the vitamins and nutrients needed to foster proper growth and development.
Focus on eating the most nutrient-dense diet possible and reset your focus from releasing excess weight once you have your baby, and place your attention on fueling your body and baby’s to ensure you both are well during this irreplaceable time in your lives.