Many women suffer from excess weight gain while they are pregnant and want to lose the weight when the baby comes. To lose those extra pounds, many new moms opt for a low carb diet while breastfeeding.
Evidence suggests that a low carb diet helps mothers lose excess weight while fulfilling their nutritional needs and the needs of her child. However, an extremely low carb diet can potentially be dangerous during breastfeeding. It takes time. Just like you didn’t put on the weight overnight, it won’t come off overnight either. Give yourself time and grace to meet your goals. To learn more, read on to find out about losing weight on a low carb diet while breastfeeding.
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What Is a Low Carb Diet?
The three main macronutrient groups you consume are proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. When you consume a diet higher in protein and fat and lower in carbs, this is considered a low carb diet. This diet allows your body to get into fat burning mode and use fat as fuel. There are different ratios of protein:fat:carbs that you can follow. That decision is ultimately up to you and how strict you want to be eating a low carb diet while breastfeeding.
For example, the most popular keto diet resources suggest an average of 70-80% fat from total daily calories, 5-10% carbohydrate, and 10-20% protein. For a 2,000-calorie diet, this equals about 165 grams fat, 40 grams carbohydrate, and 75 grams protein.
For the Atkins diet, the first phase is even more strict than the keto diet (and not recommended while breastfeeding…more on that later in this post). The ratios are 70% fat, 25% protein, and 5% carbs.
There are different names and brand names that are used to describe a low carb diet- most of them do the same thing. The goal is to get into a ketogenic state so you use fat as fuel. As your body converts fat into fuel, it will be using your own stored fat as well.
Is a Low Carb Diet Safe While Breastfeeding?
Yes, when done correctly, a low carb diet is safe while breastfeeding. It requires modifications and calorie requirements to ensure you’re still feeding your body what it needs to produce milk and function well. You’ll want to eat enough calories, which means no less than 1,800 calories per day. You will likely need more, but that is the bare minimum.
If you see your supply start to dwindle, add more calories from low carb foods. Calories make milk, not carbs. So if this is something you really want to try to help you lose weight, give it a try but know you can always add in more carbs and slowly decrease the amount/ratios until your body is used to the transition.
You want to drink at least half your body weight in ounces of water per day to stay hydrated. Drinking electrolytes are also important as you drink more water and flush your body of toxins, including some minerals. You want to replenish your body by drinking healthy electrolytes. There are many options on the market, but I recommend staying away from any with sucralose.
You can choose electrolyte options with stevia or monk fruit extract. Coconut water (without added sugar) is also another healthy way to get electrolytes, or water with Himalayan salt and lemon squeezed in it.
Although there are drinks on the market like Body Armor and Gatorade, you want to avoid those because of the high sugar content and artificial sweeteners that may upset your tummy or your baby’s.
Will a Low Carb or Keto Diet Hurt My Breast Milk Supply?
When following a moderate carb diet with ample calories and drinking enough water/electrolytes, it should not hurt your breast milk supply. Keep a food journal if you’re not sure if you’re eating enough food, or unsure of the types of foods you’re eating meet the low carb/calorie requirement.
There are many factors to consider when starting a low carb or keto diet while breastfeeding. To avoid losing supply, always ease into it, keep an eye on your output as well as your baby’s diaper output. If your baby is showing signs of dehydration, you want to investigate why and add more calories, electrolytes, and water in the meantime.
When Can I Start a Low Carb Diet as a Breastfeeding Mom?
You can start a low carb diet once your milk is regulated. Typically, this is around month 2 or 3 after your baby is born. If your baby is nursing well, gaining weight appropriately, has plenty of wet and dirty diapers, you can start a low carb diet slowly. Ease into it by first switching the quality of foods you’re eating to more whole, real foods (avoid processed junk food, fried foods, white flour, etc.). Then, after a few weeks of adjusting to that, slowly reduce the amount of carbs in your diet over a few days to whatever you’re comfortable with- that may be 125 carbs or 100 carbs.
If you’re seeing results in weight loss, stay at that carb amount for a few weeks. Do not drop below 50-75 carbs while breastfeeding, especially if you are new to this eating lifestyle. If you hit a weight plateau after a few weeks, journal your food, start exercising more, but do not drop your carb and calorie requirement.
What Is the Minimum Requirement of Carbohydrates for a Nursing Mother?
If you want to start on a moderate carb diet, the minimum requirement of carbs for a nursing mother is 75-100 carbs (even 125 carbs depending on how many you were eating before you started this journey). Stay at a particular amount for a few weeks before decreasing carb count. Only decrease by 25 or so, see how you and your baby respond, and then stay there for a few more weeks if you’re seeing results with no negative impact.
A diet must be chosen wisely to provide nourishment for mom and to fulfill your baby’s milk requirements. If a mom does regular exercises, it is recommended that she should eat more carbs and calories in general.
To fulfill the carbohydrates requirement, a mother could incorporate fruit, whole grains, brown rice, and oatmeal in her daily diet. It is imperative to avoid food items such as refined sugar, white grains such as white rice, bread, baked items, and soft drinks.
You can also consume healthy carbs from starchy vegetables, seeds, nuts, and some dairy products.
Best Low Carb Diet Plans For Breastfeeding Mothers
Most moms want to get their pre-pregnancy body back. However, breastfeeding mothers must choose a diet plan that helps lose fat while also providing their baby with proper nourishment.
Here are some low carb diet plans that breastfeeding mothers can adopt with modifications without disturbing the baby’s milk supply.
- Atkins Diet
- South Beach Diet
- Ketogenic Diet
This is a low-carb diet often recommended for rapid weight loss. Proponents of this diet claim that a person can eat as much protein and fats as they like, as long as they keep the carb intake low.
The diet was introduced in 1972 and received backlash from mainstream health specialists. This was due to its high saturated sugar content, but new studies suggest otherwise. Although it is high in fat, the Atkins diet does not add bad LDL cholesterol.
Sticking to whole, real foods that are minimally processed are key. Healthy animal proteins that are pasture-raised or wild-caught are equally important.
There are 4 phases to this diet plan.
- Phase 1: This is the first step to weight loss. You can use less than 20 grams of carbs per day for about two weeks, while high-fat and high-protein food is recommended. Combine this with low-carb vegetables, especially those with green leaves.
THIS PHASE IS NOT RECOMMENDED FOR BREASTFEEDING MOMS because such a low-carb profile will cause a mother’s body to lose ketones which can be damaging for the baby.
- Phase 2: Gradually add a few more nuts, low-carb vegetables, and a small number of fruits to your diet. It is an ongoing weight loss phase to keep carbohydrate intake low (at around 25 grams per day). The fat continues to burn.
THIS PHASE IS ALSO NOT RECOMMENDED FOR BREASTFEEDING MOTHERS due to its low carb composition, which may be unhealthy for the baby.
- Phase 3: As you start getting close to your goal, start adding carbs to your diet. This ensures a slower weight loss journey.
Breastfeeding woman can start their diet plan directly from this phase and get a well-rounded diet. It is important to make sure your calories are at least 1,800 calories per day with 50-75 for carbs.
- Phase 4: Eat a healthy diet with lots of vegetables, proteins, healthy fats, and low sugar fruits. Eat as many healthy carbs as your body needs, preferably non-starchy vegetables.
It’s a three-step diet plan to lose weight. Breastfeeding women must skip phase 1 and start directly with phase 2 before moving to phase 3.
- Phase 1: Not Recommended For Breastfeeding Women.
It’s a two-week-long phase and aims to help a person overcome cravings. The insulin levels are brought under control, and the person starts losing weight.
- Phase 2:
Breastfeeding women can jump-start from this phase. They are encouraged to take a well-balanced diet. The phase slowly increases the intake of carbohydrates and can last until the desired goal is achieved.
- Phase 3:
Breastfeeding women can take part in this phase. It aims to maintain your weight and keep your body in proper shape.
The ketogenic diet is an improved version of the Atkin’s diet. This diet is based on a low-carb and high intake of fat with low protein, which naturally makes the body go into ketosis. The diet cuts down your sugar intake, which forces the body to undergo ketosis, and stored fats start to burn.
Some of the recommended foods to eat on a ketogenic diet are non-starchy vegetables, meat, fatty fish, cheese, butter, and eggs. All these things are excellent food sources for breastfeeding women. Things to avoid include alcohol, sugar, grains, high sugar fruit, and unhealthy fats made with vegetable oils.
Can Keto And Breastfeeding Co-Exist?
When a mother breastfeeds her child, she starts to burn a lot of energy and hence needs more calories than usual. A mother may need up to 500 extra calories a day depending on her maternal stores and maternal history.
Most mothers lose weight while breastfeeding, so a well-balanced diet won’t add any extra pounds to her body. However, if the calorie levels go too low, milk supply may be negatively affected, and the baby may be deprived of the nutrients it needs.
So, the ketogenic diet minimizes carb intake and emphasizes eating foods with high fats for more energy. Research has proven that breastfeeding on a low carb diet does not affect the milk supply and is therefore not harmful to the baby. According to research, a Keto diet plan is good for breastfeeding weight loss as breastmilk is 50 to 60% fat, so babies get to have a rich supply of fats from their mothers on keto. A low- to moderate-carb diet is truly the best way to go when you’re breastfeeding and trying to lose weight. You can adjust your carbs as necessary to see results without losing supply.
Benefits of Eating a Low Carb Diet While Breastfeeding
Many of the benefits of eating a low carb diet while breastfeeding are similar, whether you’re breastfeeding or not. A low carb diet while breastfeeding can help accelerate your weight loss after having a baby. It can also help you heal quickly if your body is not inflamed from processed foods. Other benefits include:
- Reducing carbs, decreasing your appetite naturally
- Lose weight faster, especially initially
- Abdominal fat loss is more prevalent in low carb diets which is where many moms are trying to target
- Lower risk of heart disease due to a decrease in blood triglycerides
- Increases the “good” cholesterol, or HDL
- Reduced carb consumption reduces and even reverses type 2 diabetes
- Reduces high blood pressure
- Low carb diets help improve brain function
Risks Of Doing a Low Carb Diet While Breastfeeding
In some cases, there may be negative effects of using a low-carb diet while breastfeeding. These risks may not be widespread, but the threat is still there. Risks associated with a low carb diet for breastfeeding mothers include the following.
Milk Quality May Decline
Taking a hardline and going on an extreme diet will cause your body fat to burn rapidly. This may cause the toxins stored in the body to get released into breast milk. This is why it is recommended to maintain a moderate level, especially while doing ketogenic diets while breastfeeding.
Milk Supply May Decline
Consuming a diet low in carbohydrates can cause rapid weight loss, but quick weight loss is definitely not recommended for a breastfeeding mother. A constant milk supply comes from the consistent energy provided by calories. Following a low-carb diet may lower the amount of milk produced by the body, which is not suitable for a newborn baby. You also want to avoid flooding your body with toxins, which can end up in your milk if you lose weight too quickly.
Increased Use Of Artificial Sweeteners
Cutting down on carbs means a person is also cutting down on carb-based natural sweeteners such as honey and sugar. This may cause a person to switch to artificial sweeteners. Good alternatives are monk fruit extract and stevia leaf (without dextrose). Avoid Splenda and sucralose.
What Should Breastfeeding Moms Do Who Want To Start A Low Carb Diet?
Listed below are some tips that will help you follow a low-carb diet without compromising your baby’s milk supply.
- As long as a mother is breastfeeding, she should consume around 50 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per day.
- A breastfeeding mother must stay hydrated. Drink about 8 to 10 glasses of water every day.
- The daily intake of calories must be at least 1,800 per day. Anything less than that can be damaging for mom’s supply.
- Don’t be too harsh on yourself. Start gradually with your diet and slowly pick up the phase. If you start feeling weak, stop right there, drink electrolytes and start again with a higher carb count.
- Keep a close eye on milk supplied to the baby. If the quantity starts to drop, that’s an indication that you must reevaluate.
- The best time to start your diet is when the baby is about 3 to 5 months old. This will allow your body enough time to regulate your milk supply.
- Closely observe your baby’s weight gains. If he starts to lose weight or shows signs of dehydration, stop dieting.
- While changing your baby’s diaper, observe if there is any change in stool production or dark-colored urine- this can indicate dehydration.
Lastly, if you are looking for some guidance to implement a keto diet while breastfeeding, then you definitely check out our video and workshop on how to do Keto while breastfeeding.
Will I Lose Weight On a Low Carb Diet While Breastfeeding?
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Other tips to accelerate weight loss without restricting carbs too drastically:
- Move your body more- walking, swimming, and low-impact strength training are great choices.
- Eat high-quality foods- grass-fed meats, pasture-raised poultry, wild-caught seafood, organic fruits and vegetables
- Decrease the number of carbs you eat after lunch (eat more of your carbs earlier in the day). This will give your body enough time to burn off the carbs before you go to bed so you start using fat for fuel.
- Drink more water with electrolytes.
- Incorporate intermittent fasting with a keto or low carb diet
Low Carb Diet Meal Plan While Breastfeeding
A low carb meal plan does not have to be complicated. In fact, I think the simpler you keep it, the more likely you are to stick to it. When I follow a keto diet while breastfeeding, I usually stick to a protein (wild salmon, pasture-raised chicken, or grass-fed beef), a green veggie, and a small portion of a healthy starch like half a sweet potato.
For breakfast or at snack time I may add in berries. Berries are the lowest in carbs and overall sugar, making them a great choice to include. Plus, they are full of antioxidants which will help boost your immune system.
Sample Meal Plan
Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with 2 slices of bacon (nitrate-free), 1/2 cup of blueberries or sliced tomatoes
Lunch: Chicken or egg salad wrapped in lettuce, black olives or green olives, a few Mary’s Gone Crackers
Dinner: Zucchini lasagna (just swap the noodles for thin slices of zucchini patted dry)
Snacks (optional, if needed): 1/2 cup of berries with plain whole-milk Greek yogurt, or celery with peanut butter, handful of nuts and half an apple
Best Low Carb Snacks for Breastfeeding Moms
Here are some of my favorite go-to snacks as a breastfeeding mom that are also low carb and healthy for you.
- Kirkland’s creamy peanut butter (no sugar added)
- Keto hazelnut trail mix
- Keto granola
- Beef sticks
- Beef jerky
- Moon cheese
- Parm crisps
- Black olives
- Green olives
- Mary’s Gone Crackers
- Bhu keto bites
If you’re looking for more energy-boosting breastfeeding snacks, check out this article with a list of breastfeeding snacks that give you energy.
The thought of starting a low carb or Keto diet while breastfeeding might seem intimidating. However, if it is something you want to do just be sure to follow the tips above in order to safely implement a low carb diet while continuing to breastfeed successfully.
New moms are obsessed with losing fat, and as we all know, reducing the intake of carbohydrates can help you lose weight, which is why a low carb diet while breastfeeding seems like a good idea. However, inadequate carb intake can also reduce the quality and quantity of breast milk. So, there must be a balance between weight loss and a proper diet.
Eating unhealthy carbs may give a short-term benefit, and you may lose weight, but it can lead to long-term complications. So, always make sure you get a balanced diet with a little bit of everything, including carbs.