The keto diet is a very hot topic for breastfeeding moms — from both a nutritional standpoint and it’s postpartum weight loss benefits. The four most important things to closely monitor while transitioning from a carb-fueled diet to the keto diet while breastfeeding are electrolytes, calories, water intake, and to transition slowly.
Trust me when I say that when these things are essential for maintaining milk supply–I learned the hard way my first attempt, and I watched my milk supply completely tank. I’ll share my personal experience with what I did wrong the first time, how I corrected it and was able to exclusively breastfeed with a plentiful milk supply while following the keto diet, and how my baby responded to the dietary changes.
Gestational Diabetes and Keto
My pregnancy with my fourth child was much different than the first three, as I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes halfway through the pregnancy. After reading Real Food for Pregnancy, I made a huge change to my diet — adopting a lower carb and high fat way of eating, or a ketogenic diet.
I remained keto 90% of the time for the remainder of my pregnancy (keeping carbs under 50 grams/day), but once I delivered my sweet babe, I was just eating what was put in front of me—healthy, yet much higher carb that I was accustomed to during the pregnancy.
I started monitoring my blood sugars about 3 weeks postpartum using my Keto Mojo, and noticed them creeping up, so I knew I needed to go back to the keto diet to get my glucose numbers down. During this time I also had my A1C checked, and found out I fell in the “prediabetes” range.
Once I hit the 4 week postpartum mark and my EBF (exclusively breastfed) newborn had somewhat of an eating/sleeping schedule, I was ready to jump back into the keto diet. What I didn’t know was that my body wasn’t at all ready for it.
My first attempt at following the keto diet while breastfeeding… FAIL
My first attempt at starting the keto diet while breastfeeding did not go well. My milk supply completely tanked. I was literally producing drops, when I was overflowing just a few days prior. I blame this on a few things:
- My milk supply wasn’t fully established at 4 weeks postpartum
- I had no idea how important electrolytes were, especially while breastfeeding
- I didn’t track my calories, which were much lower than they should have been (since I lost my appetite)
- I didn’t give my body enough time to transition
Although I was drinking almost a gallon of water a day, by day 2 I was producing almost no milk. I’m certain of this because where I’d normally pump an extra 4-5 ounces in the mornings, and a few ounces throughout the day, I was only getting drops. My baby was also very fussy and uncomfortable.
The panic lead me right back down the path to eating oatmeal along with some other higher carbohydrate foods. Then, boom. My milk supply was right back to where it was before within 24 hours.
How to successfully start keto while breastfeeding without losing milk supply
I decided to give my milk supply some time to get established, waiting until I was 8 weeks postpartum to begin another attempt at going keto. During these four weeks I researched like crazy, and ready every single published article, forum and even a few books I could get my hands on.
I learned, from all of the information I gathered, that the most important keys to success when switching over to keto while breastfeeding are 1. staying on top of your electrolytes (not powerade zero, either), 2. tracking your calories to make sure you’re getting enough, 3. drinking the right amount of water…not too little not too much, and 4. to transition slowly.
1. Electrolytes are not optional when starting keto diet while breastfeeding
When you’re on the keto diet, it is extremely important to replenish lost electrolytes since your body is no longer storing these key nutrients the way it would on a carb-heavy diet. Supplementation is required for sodium (I used pink salt), magnesium (like Calm or Malate) and potassium (I highly recommend the citrate powder).
Every person is different, so I can’t tell you exactly how much of each your body needs, but based on my findings and what worked best for my body was to follow the chart below.
In addition to electrolytes, I also supplemented with sunflower lecithin to help with clogged ducts — this can be a major problem for some women, as your milk gets thicker and fattier when you are eating higher fats.
2. Track your calories to be sure you are eating enough
As my body gets into ketosis, I almost completely lose my appetite. The fats work well as suppressing your appetite, so it can be a bit of a challenge in the beginning to be sure you’re eating enough. I downloaded an app to track my macros and watch my caloric consumption for the day to be sure that I was getting at least 80g protein, and 1600 calories. Again, this can vary tremendously from person-to-person, but for my 5’1″ frame, this is how my body runs best.
3. Water, water, water
To be successful on the keto diet while breastfeeding, water is essential for milk production. I made sure to drink the same number of ounces of my body weight/day. So if you weigh 120lb, your goal should be 120oz of water/day. It’s important to note that electrolytes should be supplemented, however! If you’re only drinking water but not supplementing with electrolytes, all your electrolytes will get flushed out.
4. Transition to keto while breastfeeding slowly
Depending on how many grams of carbs per day you consume, this process can take some time. It did for me, anyway. But this is vital to ensure that your milk supply is unaffected. I allowed myself a week to transition into ketosis by slowly lowering my daily intake of carbs. I started at 140 grams/day, so you could see how it could take someone longer depending on their daily carb intake.
In addition to slowly lowering my carb intake (which took me about a week total), I added 1Tbs MCT oil (to help my liver produce ketones, even though I was not following a ketogenic diet) to my coffee.
My experience with the new approach to keto while breastfeeding
After implementing these 4 changes from that of my first shot at going keto while breastfeeding, I was able to successfully produce milk while being in ketosis. I will say, the first 6 days of being in true ketosis I did notice a decrease in my milk supply, but it was insignificant. I was able to keep my baby comfortable — I just wasn’t stashing away as much as I had been before.
After the first week, my supply was actually better than it was before. I’m able to store an average of 10oz per day since transitioning to keto, and the milk seems much more dense.
How my baby has responded to my dietary changes while breastfeeding
My baby has responded very well since switching to the keto diet while breastfeeding. She seems to stay satisfied much longer than before, and is sleeping better through the night. She has also been my best weight gainer so far. She jumped from the 8th percentile to the 55th percentile. My other babies who were breastfed with me following the standard american diet all struggled to gain weight.
I would love to hear from you and your experience to going keto while breastfeeding! Please comment below with how your transition went, or feel free to message me personally if you have any questions! I look forward to hearing from you all!