Is Keto dangerous for those of you pregnant, breastfeeding, or wanting to breastfeed?
This is a huge question for many people in my life, and for the longest time I’d simply those around me that I simply didn’t know.
When I started Keto, my daughter was about 19 months old, and then only nursed for those first two months I did Keto. I personally didn’t see any reduction in supply or any issues at all.
But now that I’ve done the Keto diet for three months, have weaned, and finally started thinking about it, why would pregnant women not be able to do Keto?
Who would tell pregnant women to avoid a diet rich in nutrients for one poor in nutrients? A Keto diet would just mean the woman would be eating meats, vegetables, healthy fats, nuts, maybe some fruit. She would be avoiding sugar and processed foods.
Her diet would be similar to that of her ancestors who clearly carried pregnancies to term and had healthy offspring. Nothing in the Keto diet recommends protein or calorie deficits, so pregnant women would be getting those very needed calories and protein.
But there’s something scary about the “low-carb” option, especially as money has been poured into convincing us to spend more and more on wheat and grain consumption. I mean, we all grew up with that food pyramid, right? We’ve all been hooked at one point on that high-carb diet.
But if there’s no such thing as an essential carbohydrate and our body will make glucose on its own when needed, why do we need that Standard Amercian Diet (SAD)? Why would some well-intentioned and some not-so-well-intentioned doctors tell women that such a healthy, low-carb diet could be dangerous?
One criticism I have found is that our gut feeds off fiber in foods, leading some to advise pregnant women to not eat a Ketogenic diet. This criticism doesn’t hold much weight with me as you can find fiber in non-starchy foods; you do not need grain for fiber. You can get fibers from green, leafy vegetables and other foods. You can simply eat more fermented food to feed gut bacteria. Furthermore, you can look here at Dr. Eric Berg’s and Maria Emmerich’s explanation of the the fiber myth and about why you need less fiber than you think. You can also watch Dr. Paul Mason examine the myth here as well.
Another criticism looks at a study done with rats put on a Ketogenic diet during pregnancy. In this study, rats whose mothers ate a Ketogenic Diet (KD) had offspring with altered brain structures when compared to the rats fed the Standard Diet (SD). While this sentence I just wrote might scare you (and I don’t just mean the syntax), I looked at the “results” and “discussion” of this study and find nothing to ward me off of eating Keto during my next pregnancy: “Adult KD mice have reduced relative volume in the hippocampus, hypothalamus, corpus callosum, striatum, motor
cortex, and auditory cortex, and increased relative volume in the cortex and cerebellum. The thalamus and dentate gyrus in the average KD brain both show regions which are enlarged, and others which are smaller compared with the average SD brain. Such volumetric changes may be attributed to the neuro-protective properties of the Ketogenic Diet, and its effects on neurogenesis. The KD has been found to decrease reactive oxygen species formation, thereby protecting the cell against oxidative stress.”
So, while brain structure is altered in KD mice, it did not seem to come with any clear issues, only positive effects like neurological and cell protection. The results even specifically state that prenatal KD helps protect “cells against degeneration.”
Furthermore, the study also claims that some of the altered brain regions might be a result of protein malnourishment in the KD rats. Thus, if both rat and human mothers consume enough protein, wouldn’t it be reasonable to speculate that brain regions may be less significantly affected.
However, the differences in size didn’t really scare me when I was reading the results of this study. The differences exhibited by the KD mice, to me, only seemed positive. Prenatal KD mice exhibited less anxiety and depression, which lasted into their adulthood, even after they began eating a Standard Diet (SD). They showed more endurance when swimming, male offspring had significantly lower blood glucose levels, and they were more physically active.
Of course, if I’m somehow missing something here, let me know. I am in no way anyone medically trained and am always happy to hear other arguments and see other evidence. However, from my layperson’s research, there is no way I am not eating Keto if I decide to have another baby. Even in mice, it seems to only positively affect offspring.
Why these two criticisms don’t convince me not to recommend Keto to my pregnant loved ones:
For one, it seems to help women trying to get pregnant actually get pregnant and carry the child to term. And infertility seems to be on the rise, too. I remember when we were trying for our baby, I thought for sure it would take much longer than it did to conceive. Unfortunately, we had known too many who had either never been able to conceive, had to have medical assistance to conceive, or who took over a year to conceive. We had also known women with PCOS affecting their fertility. Fortunately, it seems like a Keto diet can help some women with their PCOS symptoms. The fact that eating Keto bolsters fertility is enough reason for many women to start eating Keto now, especially as many women are waiting until they are older to conceive and/or currently have issues with either conception or carrying to term.
Dr. Michael Fox, a fertility specialist with Jacksonville Center for Reproductive Medicine has not only been recommending this low-carb diet to his high-risk patients, he’s been recommending Keto to all his pregnant patients. And after seeing its effect on the hundreds of patients he’s helped, he’s even more adamant that this diet helps reduce the risk of miscarriage, gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and morning sickness. I wish I had heard of him back when I was pregnant. I knew a woman who almost lost both of her babies with preeclampsia, and I was terrified I might get it. I also battled some inconvenient morning sickness and was pregnant during the same time as a co-worker who was sent to the hospital with her severe morning sickness. I also was close to several who had to deal with gestational diabetes. If I had known this information then, I could have shared some valuable information that may have made a huge difference in their lives. My sister-in-law, had we known this information, might have been able to have had that baby she always wanted.
In addition to Dr. Fox, I wish I and my loved ones had found someone like Maria Emmerich, a Keto enthusiast, sooner. You can check out what she has to say about Keto, pregnancy, and breastfeeding here and here. But I’ll recap a few things I wish I had known during my pregnancy and breastfeeding days:
1. I never knew that pregnant women are even more sensitive to carbohydrates and that they become more insulin resistant when pregnant!
2. I also never realized that babies spend much time in ketosis, that breastmilk is made of fat and cholesterol, or that this fat and protein in the Keto diet only enhances breastmilk, better enabling baby to build his/her brain! I was also unaware of the high sugar and carb content of baby formula! And I did supplement with formula, although I’m happy I gave my daughter about 95% breastmilk.
3. Additionally, some women will notice a decrease in the quantity of milk produced; however, the milk of a Keto mom becomes much higher in fat content, meaning baby needs less. My poor baby nursed all the time, and I wonder if my milk was, unfortunately, too low in fat content due to my high-carb, Standard Amercian Diet (SAD).
4. Coconut Oil, my new favorite oil to cook with, has “anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal properties,” according to Emmerich. It both helps lactation and provides lauric acid, a fatty acid chain in breastmilk that supports metabolism!
As someone who is not a doctor, I strongly rely on looking at data and evidence from experts. However, I also try to remain aware of funding and how funding helps support certain studies. This is one reason why I’ve become such a strong proponent of the Ketogenic diet and a harsh critic of the SAD and all those companies which fund lies that keep us sick, miserable, and sometimes infertile.