Is Doing Keto During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding Safe?
As the keto diet has been featured more and more lately, with growing popularity for both men and women looking for a lifestyle change to maintain their diet and weight goals, many women may wonder if following keto during pregnancy and breastfeeding is actually safe.
First off, what exactly is the keto diet?
Keto is essentially a more intense version of the 2000's craze for the Atkin's diet, which advocates for very low levels of carbohydrates in the body and a higher protein and higher-fat diet. The keto diet gets its name from the state of the body called "ketosis," which is what your body goes into when you eat less than 50 grams of carbs per day for a sustained period of time. When you have less than 50 grams of carbs sustained your body, your body stops burning carbs for energy and instead starts breaking down your protein and fat stores for energy, which (as you may guess) can lead to weight loss.
While experts caution that the keto diet should be looked at as a temporary form of weight loss instead of a long-term solution, not everyone who follows the keto diet sees it that way. Many women (and men) see keto as a permanent change and new way to live their lives, but is the keto diet actually healthy or sustainable for women looking to conceive or women who are currently pregnant? Let's find out.
Keto before pregnancy
If you are overweight and looking to conceive, the keto diet may be appropriate for you to try to get down to a healthy weight before conceiving. Studies have shown that women who are obese may have a more difficult time conceiving, so getting down to a more healthy weight may help you successfully conceive, regardless of the weight loss method you are using to lose.
However, even if keto dieting helps you get down to a healthy weight, it is advisable that you resume a diet that includes more carbohydrates when you conceive or, ideally, a month or two before you conceive. This is because your growing baby will need a healthy amount of carbohydrates, especially in the beginning of your pregnancy, as a massive amount of growth occurs right from conception. Because you may not know exactly when you conceive, it's important that you have those carbs ready and waiting for your baby, instead of resuming a regular diet when you actually get that positive pregnancy test (because your baby will already have been growing by the time a test actually registers!)
And as an important note, you also need to know that not everyone's body responds the same to diet changes; some women's bodies may not respond well to a drastic and severe carb restriction and could respond in ways that might include ovulation changes, so be sure to work with a doctor and nutritionist and monitor your health carefully if you decide to choose keto for weight loss for conception purposes.
Keto during pregnancy
OK, if you're looking for me to tell you that the keto diet is all well and good during pregnancy, I'm afraid I am not the source to tell you that. Unfortunately, no one can say with 100% certainty that following any type of special diet is safe and wonderful during pregnancy because 1) everyone is different and 2) everyone responds to different foods differently. All I can do is tell you what the available research tells us so far. And right now, the current studies are showing that the keto diet doesn't seem to lead to the best health outcomes for mothers or babies. For instance, a 2017 study actually showed that a keto diet led to "alterations" in the organ growth of babies of mothers practicing it, which is about as frightening as it sounds.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) doesn't have an official stance on the keto diet, but they do offer general nutrition guidelines for pregnant women. Their guidelines are pretty basic, with a focus on a balanced diet that includes grains, protein, dairy, fruit, and vegetables, as well as some healthy fats. Essentially, carbs are super important during pregnancy to help grow a healthy baby and to give you both the energy you need. The International Food Information Council recommends between 175 and 200 grams of healthy carbs (no, that doesn't mean cake!) per day during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Keto during breastfeeding
With breastfeeding, again, the keto diet hasn't been extensively studied, but preliminary studies in mice have shown that it's pretty damaging (even fatal) to practice during lactation. In general, you need a high amount of carbohydrates to sustain a healthy milk supply and not deplete your own nutrition stores. You can experiment with different aspects of your diet and your own macronutrients, but if you are struggling with maintaining a milk supply or experiencing any negative effects on your own health, you should not follow this diet. It's advised that breastfeeding mothers, in general, should continue to consume 175 to 200 grams of carbs per day.