My success on the Keto diet whilst Breastfeeding

‘Don’t worry breastfeeding will get you back in your pre-pregnancy jeans in no time’ they said.

It’s a common misconception that the weight will just melt off the more you breastfeed. For me it seemed that the more I breastfed the more weight I was gaining.

I was eating nonstop and the weight was piling on considering I had a pregnancy where I was vomiting literally every day.

When baby was born in April, I hadn’t realized how much weight I had put on until I saw that I was overtaking my husband in portion sizes at dinner time.

When I looked at photographs of myself, I genuinely didn’t recognize who I had become.

My knees were aching as I walked up and down the stairs and I was out of breath vacuuming the house.

I was always tired even if I had a full nights sleep.

At this point I needed to face my fears and decided it was high time I stepped on that scale. 

Shock horror!

I had actually gained approximately 22 pounds after the baby had been born which bought my total weight gain up to 55 pounds since I got pregnant.

Something had to change.

There were two major issues, Firstly I was exclusively breastfeeding my 3 month old baby.

Secondly I was taking care of my other 4 kids, so I needed to find a way of losing the weight that didn’t mean spending hours in the gym and that wouldn’t affect my milk supply.

I must add that I had previously had some success with Atkins after having my second child so I knew something along the low carb route would work for me.

My main questions were ‘how would Keto affect my breast milk supply?’, is keto safe whilst breastfeeding ‘what would be my keto macros?’ and how could i be successful at this?

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What is the ketogenic diet?

The Ketogenic diet is a high fat, adequate protein and low carbohydrate diet.

The body is then forced to burn fat rather than carbohydrates.

This way of eating shares many similarities with Atkins and low carb diets in general.

The Ketogenic diet is by no means a new diet.

Devised in the 1920s to treat children with drug resistant epilepsy, it is still used for this purpose but has recently gained much publicity for being a potential breakthrough for some diseases and neurological disorders so it is not what some might refer to as a ‘fad’ diet.

What does ketosis mean?

Ketosis is a natural state for the body when it is completely fueled by fat.

This can happen when a person is fasting or on a very low carb diet such as Keto.

When this change takes place, the body becomes efficient in burning fat for energy. Fat in the liver can also be changed into ketones providing energy to the brain.

How does keto work?

The reduction in eating carbs puts your body in a metabolic state called Ketosis.  The aim of the Keto diet is to get you into Ketosis and keep you there. Normally our body’s burn carbohydrates but when you are in Ketosis the body breaks down stored fat creating molecules called Ketones for fuel. 

The Keto diet works by reducing or excludes carbohydrate containing food such as pasta, bread, wheat, potatoes, rice, fruit, sugar and legumes. You are encouraged to eat fattier cuts of meat, full fat dairy, cream, avocados, nuts, olive oil, coconut oil and butter.

Keto is normally keeping under 20 grams of carbohydrates per day which should mainly come from Vegetables

What are electrolytes? and Why are electrolytes so important?

Electrolytes are potassium, sodium and magnesium. Most moms are deficient in sodium. The lack of sodium in fresh food plus the brainwashing in recent years that it is detrimental to our health has kept most of us away from it. For centuries sodium was deemed essential for living and that without It you would in fact die. You cannot overdose on sodium your body has a set amount that it needs and will flush any oversupply out the problem here is not exceeding sodium levels but in fact not getting enough.

Breastmilk contains sodium chloride which is essential for the development of baby’s nervous system, brain and blood sugar regulation. So, if a mom is already lacking this vital electrolyte then she will not have enough for her baby not only will she be deficient but her milk will also be lacking. 

When we start breastfeeding, we are often told to drink as much water as possible and then some. While hydration is important, hydration for the water is not water alone. When we are given an IV at the hospital it doesn’t just contain H20 it is a saline glucose solution.

The problem here is that drinking gallons of water will dilute blood sodium levels, drinking huge amounts of water will not make huge amounts of milk but will in fact cause a whole host of other issues: If the body is unable to get sodium from your diet then it will start pulling it from your bones, joint fluid and vital organs. One of the biggest problems from this will be that you will have difficulty making milk.

What can I do to get my electrolytes up?

Sodium 

You can salt your food to taste. Use salt when you are preparing whole fresh vegetables, we are more inclined to eat them when they have been seasoned. You can also try sole water, bone broths and pickle juice.

Magnesium

The best way to get your magnesium levels up is by eating dark green leafy vegetables and avocados are the best sources for magnesium. Even the drippings from roasted meats are an excellent source. However, as a breastfeeding mom it would be advisable to take a magnesium supplement as you will have a greater need for it.

If you drink lots of dark sodas or drink lots of caffeine you could be flushing out all the magnesium that you are taking in.

Potassium

Leafy green vegetables and avocados are a great source of potassium, lean meats. Salt substitutes are high sources of potassium. Lite salt, nu salt or no salt are a fantastic and easy way of getting the amount of potassium you need in. potassium is needed in the body for more than just relieving cramps, its needed to help the heart beat regularly, to reduce blood pressure and aid those who suffer with water retention.

How does keto affect breastfeeding?

Right after babies are born, they are already in a nutritional state of Ketosis, research has shown this to be the case they remain in Ketosis while they are breastfeeding (add research)

Research confirms that breastmilk from healthy Moms is between 50% and 60%. The cholesterol supplied to babies through their mothers’ milk can be as much as 6 times the amount that adults consume in a day. Therefore, if a baby is born in a state of ketosis, is consuming fat and using ketones for fuel then what would the issue be with a mother who wants to follow a ketogenic diet?

The current scientific data surrounding the debate of the Keto diet and breastfeeding is extremely limited.

A 2009 study compared a low carbohydrate high fat diet (LCHF) to a high carbohydrate and low-fat diet (HCLF) in breastfeeding women. The study showed some interesting facts

Whichever diet the mothers decided to follow the daily milk production and the daily breast milk intake of the baby’s remained the same in both camps

The baby’s energy intake in calories was higher during the LCHF phase.

Milk fat concentration and the energy content of the milk were higher during the LCHF diet.

Based on the findings of the research it was concluded that BREASTFEEDING MOMS COULD LOSE MORE WEIGHT WHILE ON A LCHF DIET THEN A HCLF DIET WITHOUT IT AFFECTING MILK PRODUCTION.

Furthermore, a study compiled in 2016 looked at the impact of maternal nutrition on breast milk composition. It found that the evidence was both ‘scarce and diversified’ and that the science that recommendations are made on ‘is limited to studies that only reported indirect associations’.

Based on the above research, it shows that a breastfeeding mother can follow a Ketogenic diet.  One must however take into account that the above research was only based on 7 people so a larger study is desperately needed.

There has also been some research that suggests that doing a Keto diet while breastfeeding is not a good thing. This study was conducted on pregnant and lactating mice. It seemed that the lactating mice experienced severe physiological strain and went into Ketoacidosis a dangerous complication when the body is producing far too many Ketones. Thus, leading to high amounts of Ketones in the blood some mice even died. The babies were slow to grow, due to lack of nutrients or milk supply. The mice experienced fertility issues and when the mice became pregnant their litter sizes were small.

When I delved deeper and read more about this research there were a few things that stood out to me. The mice were fed 50% Crisco (trans fats), 10-20% corn oil and the vitamins they were getting were all synthetic from a supplement rather than being from whole foods.

The only protein source that the mice were given was casein which is a milk source, they also used a methionine supplement. The mice were also getting 0.3% carbs compared to the 10% of carbs most of us on Keto are eating.  In my opinion this does not constitute a Keto diet.

The sample size used in this research was only 20 mice per group at the beginning of the study and as little as 11 at the end. This is a very small study and coupled with the fact that the mice were not even on a Keto diet make this research meaningless.

What are the Keto breastfeeding macros?  What is a Keto macro calculator?

The term macro is short for Macro-nutrients in the context of nutrition and the Keto diet. They include carbohydrates, protein and fat. This is where all your calories will come from.

When you are breastfeeding, your macros will be slightly different to the standard ones. I used this macro calculator and clicked that I was ‘moderately active’ (breastfeeding counts as exercise right!). Do this regardless of whether you are exercising or not. I also put maintaining weight rather then losing as the calories will be far too low for a breastfeeding mom. Also, for breastfeeding Keto set your carbs to 50 grams I did this and I slowly lowered my carbs until I knew it wasn’t affecting my milk supply. I also make sure that my protein is at the top level possible. 

I also keep my calories slightly higher so that it doesn’t affect my milk supply as I noticed when it dropped anywhere near 1700-1800 it affected my milk supply so I would need to keep it as close to 2000 as possible.

Keto and breastfeeding calories?

Once you have calculated your macros the next thing is to start logging your food diary. I know it sounds laborious but you will genuinely be surprised at how many carbs things actually contain and even with your extra carb allowance it won’t account for much.

I started off using My Fitness Pal and have used this free version throughout my keto journey. You can however pay for the additional benefit of customizing your macros in grams if you so wanted but for me the percentages were absolutely fine. There is also an app called cronometer which lots of people on Keto use but I haven’t had any experience of using this app.

I set my macros to 30% protein, 40% fat and 30% carbs

How will keto affect my milk supply?

This is where it will vary from person to person. KellyMom an online resource for breastfeeding moms recommends that breastfeeding women need between 1500-1800 calories to maintain milk supply and should try to stay at the top end of that as any sudden drop could negatively impact supply.

 The American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (ACOG) recommend breastfeeding mothers to have at 2500 calories per day, they also suggest eating fish and seafood two to three times a week but avoiding fish high in mercury. They also suggest taking a prenatal vitamin and drinking water but that’s about it.

My Top Tips to make your Keto Journey a Successful one

Below are my top tips whilst you are doing keto, this comes from a mom of 5 who has actually done the diet whilst breastfeeding and has stuck to it for well over 18 months.

I have lost over 50 lbs and am now back to my pre-children weight which I’m very pleased about but what I am incredibly proud of was the fact that I was able to do it with 5 kids and whilst I was breastfeeding my baby.

1. Keep the calories up

When you are breastfeeding, you are burning 500 calories without lifting a finger. I kept my calories at 2000-2500 at the start and then it naturally went to 2000. When you are eating cheese, cream and good fats then it really isn’t that difficult to get to your calorie goal. If you are struggling then try some yummy fat bombs.

Avocados, nuts and fish aren’t just great brain food for us adults but are amazing for little brains too so getting a whole host of good fats is fantastic.  Good fats will also keep you satiated and keep hunger away so you must remember to get those calories in even if you aren’t hungry.

2. Consume enough fiber and vegetables

It is vital you eat enough fibre and vegetables. This will ensure that you will have adequate phytochemicals and antioxidants. Its best if you try to eat a diet rich in leafy greens but if this isn’t a possibility then you can take a greens supplement.

 3. Keep an eye on your electrolytes

Make sure you are getting your daily dose of electrolytes. I would make a big 32 oz beaker of my electrolytes and sip it throughout the day. I noticed that when I tried to drink them all in one go it would cause me to have some serious unwanted visits to the toilet which is not very good for anyone let alone a breastfeeding mother.

When I missed taking enough electrolytes my milk suffered. I could clearly see that it was imperative that to keep going with Keto it was the most important factor that impacted my breast milk output.

My electrolyte drink consisted of the following:

Sodium 7000 mg a day

Potassium 3500 mg a day

Magnesium 500 mg per day

For sodium I use sole water which is pronounced So-lay, for magnesium I use a supplement called natural calm and for potassium I have been using Lo salt. Below is how I make my sole water:

Sole water

1.Take a wide mouthed mason jar and fill it a ¼ of the way with either Himalayan pink salt or Celtic salt or a mix of the two.

2.Add filtered water all the way leaving an inch on the top

3. Close the jar and give it a good shake

4. leave on the counter, after 24-48 hrs you will notice that the salt is sitting at the bottom of the jar and the clear water is on the top.  This means that the water has absorbed all the salt that it possibly can. You can keep adding salt and filtered water to the same jar.

On special occasions I also have this as my electrolyte Pina colada. In a pint glass add the following

2 tablespoons sole water

¼ teaspoon lo salt

2 tablespoons whipping cream

Fill with water or coconut water

Add Dasani pineapple coconut water flavor

My electrolyte drink

 I use a 22 oz bottle and I add

2 tablespoons of sole

Some swerve sweetener or Dasani water enhancer pineapple/ coconut flavour

¼ teaspoon of Lo Salt

2 teaspoons natural calm supplement.

Add filtered water, ice and enjoy throughout the day.

3. Have quick snacks and food options to hand

This can include fat bombs, nuts, eggs, bone broths, fatty coffees, beef and turkey sticks. I then started to batch cook and freeze meals as this made it so quick when I was running around breastfeeding and doing chores for my 5 kids.

Even mashing up an avocado with salt, pepper with a squeeze of lemon juice is a filling snack. There are endless recipes and ideas for snacks which are great when you are in a hurry.

4. Try a moderately low carb diet then a strict one

If you are struggling with low carb generally or have noticed your supply is suffering then start with 75 grams of carbs. You can then see how it affects your milk and gradually reduce it to 50 grams. Make sure that your carbs are from healthy sources such as vegetables, nuts, berries and seeds and stay away from bread, pasta, rice and other refined carbs

5. Track your food and drink consumption.

Use an app such as My Fitness Pal or cronometer to log all your food and drink you are consuming. Keep an eye on your milk production, although some may recommend to pump for a few days I wouldn’t recommend it as a baby can extract far more milk then a pump and I wouldn’t use it as gauge for how keto is affecting your milk, however I have seen lots of moms online showing pictures of milk pumped before and after electrolytes and the difference is astonishing. I cannot stress enough the importance of keeping those electrolytes in check!

My experience with Keto

I started the Keto diet in June when my baby was 3 months old and by December the same year, I was back to my pre-pregnancy weight and 56 lbs lighter. In fact, I was the lightest I had been for years but it wasn’t easy. It took a huge amount of dedication and lots of organisation as I get bored of the same foods very quickly. My milk supply didn’t suffer as I kept logging my food on my fitness pal. I kept Carbs at 50 grams which I got from vegetables and made sure my calories were 2000 which isn’t actually that difficult when you are allowed cream, cheese and butter.  But the most important thing in my opinion is keeping my electrolytes up.

I was very careful to track everything I ate using my fitness pal and made sure that If I was hungry, I ate. It actually didn’t feel like a diet at all and on the days, I craved something sweet I would make myself a Keto treat.

My baby continued to gain weight beautifully and when I felt that my supply was dwindling, like most of us do during a growth spurt or if baby or I were sick I used these ideas to get it back within 48 hrs.

Keto has not just helped me lose weight, it has helped me with lifting the brain fog that I had been dealing with for years. It also helped me break my addiction to sugar, I don’t feel tired in the morning and I can literally get up as soon as my alarm or baby goes off, I now don’t suffer with the five o’clock slump I used to before I went on the diet but most of all I feel healthier.

Keto has also changed my taste buds, I now enjoy eating vegetables and make exciting salads with new Keto friendly ingredients. I really am enjoying eating this way and I hope you will too.

keto and breastfeeding

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