Keto and Fertility, Pregnancy, and Breastfeeding

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.

Weaning a Toddler

To nurse or not to nurse? That was never really a question in our house.

I always knew I’d breastfeed my daughter. I mean, I apparently breastfed until I was about three years old, or so the story goes.

However, I had assumed it would come more naturally. I did not expect my daughter to have such a horrible latch. In fact, during her first few hours of life, I was left bloody and sore from her nursing.

I knew from a breastfeeding class I took while pregnant that nursing wasn’t supposed to hurt, but all the nurses post-birth kept telling me I was being a bit wimpy about it. So, I persevered.

Then I got a little mad and DEMANDED to see the lactation consultant. (My baby was born at the busiest time of the year, so we did not get great treatment due to the high number of babies being born during that time.)

And the lactation consultant got my baby supplementing with formula. While I wanted so much to breastfeed, I was so happy she stepped in so my baby could eat. She also gave me shells and lanolin to help with the healing.

And last of all, she gave me breast shields to use when nursing. While these were supposed to be used as a temporary crutch, we ended up using them for all 21 months of nursing.

Yes, I said it. Twenty-one months!

Was it easy! Um, no! That baby stayed attached to my breast, day and night, for almost a year. I just sort of had to find ways to settle in with her and have everything I needed within reach.

She did not want to be away from me or the breasts, meaning finding time or opportunity to pump was almost impossible.

This high-needs baby of mine was a milkaholic. She loved her “booby”.

But I was done with breastfeeding long before I made her wean at 21 months. In fact, I had been done for a while.

You see, when I started Keto when she was around 19 months, I found that the new me was focused on tackling issues in my life. Of course, for those who weren’t able to breastfeed this doesn’t seem like a valid issue since I was one of the lucky ones able to breastfeed. And, I assure you. I fought hard to breastfeed, and I felt like I sacrificed a lot to breastfeed. Another lactation consultant, two weeks postpartum, even handed me some formula and told me to stop trying to breastfeed and just give her formula. To say I was stubborn might be an understatement.

Yet, still, though I fought so hard to make it happen, at this point it was an issue and was greatly affecting my sleep.

So, with this newfound confidence that the Keto diet gave me, I decided to be more proactive and get her to wean.

Thus, we started talking about “booby milk” and how booby milk is for babies. Every time we’d see a baby, we’d talk about babies getting “booby milk” not big girls. Then, I’d ask her if she was a baby or a big girl, and she’d say “girl”.

Once it was clear she understood this, I decided to drop the middle of the night feedings. Meaning, when she woke up to nurse, I would just snuggle her. Did this tick my toddler off at first? Yes, yes it did. But she only really cried for a minute or two before going back to sleep. Of course, I’d remind her during this time that booby milk was for babies and she was a big girl. We had to keep this up for a week or two before she completely stopped expecting it at night. And some nights were a little rough, although not nearly as rough as I had expected.

Then, I gradually shortened our time nursing to sleep. (Yes, this was the only way I had been able to get my little one to sleep, unfortunately).

And finally, on June 9, 2018. I just didn’t nurse and held her to sleep. By this point, she seemed fine with not having the “booby” and didn’t ask for it. She hasn’t asked for it since.

Now, we snuggle to sleep every night, and, honestly, (and I’m probably in the minority here) I much prefer this to nursing.

Just Getting By

I stopped working when my daughter was born. Actually, since I was a teacher, I finished teaching that school year three months before she was born.

And having a relaxing third trimester was nice.

But being home with her that first year felt like a must.

She nursed all the time, day and night. I spent hours upon hours with her propped on a breast while I binged t.v. shows or read books.

This sounds serene and relaxing. But I wasn’t sleeping. I wasn’t getting out. I wasn’t getting visitors. I was a mess. A chubby, sleep-deprived, desperate mess.

But, as many would say, I was living the dream. I was a stay-at-home-mom.

Yesterday, I heard someone talking about her decision not to be a stay-at-home-mom, and what she said struck me hard.

She and her husband both make six figures. After going to school for as long as she did, there was no way she’d leave that behind. As a former teacher (who did NOT make six figures), I can understand that. In the time I’ve been home (2 years now) I did take an online class to get the rest of my re-certification points. I will file paperwork next year to renew my teaching license. I want to get back into my career eventually. I can understand now wanting to jeopardize a career you worked so hard for.

But I worry, will this hiatus break my career? Will I be able to just jump right back into it? Have I done myself a disservice because I took time off, took out my pension (because we needed the money), and left a tenured position?

She further stated that her and her husband thought it best to have both their incomes in order to give their child the best financial life possible, instead of a just-getting-by-financial life. Oh boy did this hit hard!

When my husband and I started trying, he was bringing in about $7,000 a month. Now, after hours have been cut, he makes about half that. And we still have bills to pay. I still have student loans. Did we make a mistake having me stay home with our daughter?

Before getting married and before having a baby, I was financially pretty limited, but I was always able to pay my bills. They were on auto-draft; I didn’t know when they’d be taken out. I just always had enough not to worry about what day they’d be pulled out.

Now, my situation is different. It’s a balancing act. One emergency wrecks us. With our daughter’s UTI costing us about $500 out of pocket and our dog’s arthritis injury costing $1000 and all the other times we found ourselves in a deficit this year, our credit cards are about maxed. This has never happened before. I used to pay it off every month just to get points. Now, I pay about the minimum every month to not go over the limit.

As you can see, what she said hit me hard.

Choosing to stay home or choosing to work is a hard choice. There are pros and cons to each. It’s a little too late for me to go back next school year, but it may have to be something I do the following year. At that point, I will have been out of the school system for three years.

I just hope that doesn’t hold me back too much!

Social Media Lies

How many people lie on social media? I’m starting to think it’s a lot more than I used to.

And I know that social media only really shows you the good stuff going on in someone’s life.

I know that I posted pictures today from Will’s second 5K. I didn’t write a diatribe about how he’s not getting paid this week and the stress of bills are weighing on me.

I showed the good and did not share the bad, just as I posted the best selfie we had taken and deleted the bloopers.

I understand the management of perception. What I don’t quite get is the out-and-out lies.

But I am starting to think that friends of mine use lies and/or absolute exaggerations on social media to get compliments and validation from others and to combat certain insecurities. Do you have people like this in your life? Or have I had a knack for attracting a certain type of person?

For example, last night, as I got a chance to sit down for a minute and unwind, I noticed this post from a friend of mine. She and I have been friends since preschool, but now, in our thirties, we don’t have much in common other than the fact that we have kids. In the past, I sort of accepted this as normal. You grow, you change—these things happen.

But this was the second post she made about someone “shaming” her for being a working mom. No descriptions of how this shaming was done. Just a general, abstract, I was shamed “boo hoo” post.

And the comments poured in. “You’re awesome!” “People need to mind their own business!” “Being a working mom is better for the kids, anyway.” “You are a strong, independent woman!”

But I just doubt anyone actually said anything. If not an out-and-out lie, my money is on the fact that my friend was feeling insecure and took something innocuous the wrong way.

In fact, I think I may have played a part in it. See, her son recently had an acute autoimmune response which put him in the hospital twice.

Knowing what I know about carbohydrates and sugar affecting immune responses in some people, I (after inquiring about how he was doing upon his return from the hospital) asked her if she had considered trying a low carb diet for him. Instead of asking questions or inquiring more, she told me her son was three and lived on carbs. My simple question was not appreciated.

As someone who has been exposed to more mind-opening information lately and who has first-hand experienced the big changes diet can make in a body, her unwillingness to learn more for her child’s well-being saddened me.

I hope, though, that his body does not respond that way again, and I hope that she doesn’t have to think about low-carb diets for her son’s health.

But I also suspect that her jab about how her she gives “her children proper nutrition” in her Facebook post about being shamed had something to do with what I said.

I think I hit a nerve.

And before learning more about nutrition, I used to give my daughter sugary yogurt snacks and goldfish and crackers. I always knew this was probably not best, but I didn’t know any other way.

When I asked if she had considered a low-carb diet for her son, I only wanted to help. It was not a shaming. I purposely only asked if she had considered it and mentioned I had heard good things about low-carb and autoimmune. I purposely phrased it in a way that wouldn’t sound preachy or pushy.

So what else had someone said that sent her over the edge?

My question is, how quick are we to think we’re being shamed? And how often do we fabricate and/or exaggerate being shamed to get those feel-good responses on Facebook? And are we doing this much more often than both prior to and in the early days of social media?

And are working moms being shamed? Have I missed something in my life experiences to make me doubt this is happening?

Going Back to Work?

People often assume my husband and I are wealthy. I mean, I stay at home with my baby, of course we’re wealthy. But we’re not. We’re poorer now than we’ve ever been, and these past 19 months have been very hard financially.

Consequently, I’ve been considering going back to teach in the fall. My toddler would be turning two, meaning she would have spent her first two years with me. Meaning, she would be at the age where she would probably enjoy spending her days with other kids, right?

You see, when I first became a stay-at-home mom, I actually kind of wished I had gone back to work. I even told one mom that I may have been better-able to avoid those baby blues had I kept working and had been able to be around people.

But, I suppose I have now adjusted to my new life, for when I think about going back to work, my heart breaks. How can I leave her?

I love our days together. I love my days which are solely focused on her and our household. We can leisurely get groceries together, eat breakfast without a rush, take naps together as she nurses.

When I first got used to motherhood, I used to long for those times when she’d fall asleep and give me an hour to myself. I’d run off to go sit on the couch like I used to before I became a mom. I would watch t.v., read a book, eat some delicious treat. Now, I lie beside her for as long as I can. I snuggle her. I savor her. For one day she will not want to sleep with Mama anymore. One day, I may have to go back to work and miss her for long stretches.

For all those people who try to say being at home is just as hard as working, I do not think that would be the case for me. Yes, being with her 24/7 when she was a high-needs infant was exhausting and simply the hardest thing I had ever done.

But now, now that she’s older and a little more independent, my days are so much less exhausting. I can organize my week by what activity she and I will do, what chore I will tackle. But when I think of working, I think of early morning hustles out the door to daycare and early-evening rushes to pick her up, take her home, feed her, bathe her, and put her to bed. The whole evening feels pressed together in my imagination. I seem frazzled. I can feel my weekends getting piled with all the chores I didn’t do all week.

With a husband who works out of town all week and is only home on weekends, the thought of going back to work is overwhelming, and I applaud women who do it. I simply have a hard time fathoming how you do it all within your limited time-frame.

When I think of my mother who worked full-time, I remember her constant state of stress. She spent her time at home doing all the chores and all the cooking she couldn’t do when working. When I was a kid, I remember her being busy. I remember those rare times she let loose to laugh and play because they were so rare that they were precious. I remember, in all honesty, telling people throughout my teens and early to mid-twenties that I would not have children. I had felt like a burden growing up, not because my mom was a bad mother but because she had too much to do and too little time in which to do it. It made me reluctant to have children for a long time. As I spend more time contemplating going back to work, I find I do not want that for me or for my child.

But in our modern economy, I guess I am blessed that I even had a choice to stay home for my baby’s early years. It required a lot of financial sacrifice, a bigger sacrifice and more financial stress than many are willing to deal with.

In the long-term, who knows if I will be happy or find fault with those sacrifices. I suppose only time will tell.

At this point, I still have no idea if I’ll go back to work soon, but I certainly hope that I find ways to adjust to it, find ways to be positive about the transition, and allow it to become the next new normal.

Perhaps a few working mothers can tell me more about how to find balance with careers and motherhood without becoming overwhelmed or exasperated.

Postpartum Isolation

My baby is 19 months old, and some of the memories have become softer as she’s moved into the bouncy toddler stage, but I still remember the rawness of the first year, especially those first months.

Tonight, as I was nursing my toddler to sleep, I got on Facebook. One of my former students, a senior in high school, if she is still attending, posted two pictures side by side. The first was of girls together at prom, smiling and having fun. The other showed the same girls in the delivery room, supporting their teenage friend and doting on her new baby. My former student posted this meme, these side-by-side photos, with these words, “that’s a real friendship, all mine was fake”. And I felt her pain. I did. Here she was showing what she had wanted for her own teen pregnancy and delivery.

Sadly, like her, I found that the hardest thing about becoming a mother was losing people. I had gone from being a high school teacher, surrounded by teenagers and colleagues, to a mother of a high-needs infant who wanted to nurse around the clock.

My husband worked out of town, and there was no one to help, no one to visit, no one to assist me in getting out of the funk I was in.

You see, motherhood can be lonely at first. When I decided to quit my job to be a stay-at-home mom, I had no idea the withdraw symptoms I would have. I longed for communication, socialization. Instead, my baby nursed while I binged on Netflix and slept when I could.

Those people who were great friends at work did come see her once when she was first born, but after that, even after texting my fears of having postpartum depression, were too busy with their own lives. My husband even had family in the same town as us, two who put a lot into celebrating my pregnancy, but as women without children it was easy for them to not realize I needed someone to stop by once in a while. It was way too easy for everyone. It was way too easy for the old me, the one without a child, to not realize that I should have been there for new mothers. In retrospect, I wish I had done so much more for those friends of mine who had children before I did. I was simply remiss, and at the time never realized it.

For me the isolation was due to many factors out of my control. My father, three hours away, couldn’t come help because he’s legally blind and can’t drive. My mother, a little over two hours away, was dealing with my sister’s addiction; and my grandfather, also two hours, was busy day and night taking care of my grandmother with Alzheimer’s. I was alone.

Thankfully, I was able to talk on the phone to both my dad and grandfather every day, and I sincerely believe this is what kept me sane during those sleep-deprived and socially-deprived days. That, and my bitterness. I held on to my bitterness for a long time. In a way, it is still with me. It is not something I condone or am proud of. But it’s there.

It is, unfortunately, hard to forget reaching out to people and then being reproached for it, being told you are weak or somehow defective, being told that other mothers handled it better with much less. Those are not easy things to forget.

It is not easy to let go of being told you shouldn’t feel lonely or shouldn’t need others.

But the days got easier, so much easier. I could actually put her down to cook a meal, do a load of laundry, clean the toilets. She began nursing less so I could actually take her out of the house.

And then, I began needing people less. I could stop hoping and praying for some help and friendship. And now, without the need and expectation, I can enjoy people when I see them.

But now, I wonder, why do we forget new mothers? How could people who had been mothers before not understand what I, alone in a city, would need?

As a mother of a toddler, I still remember, so now I reach out. I ask. I inquire. I offer to visit. I offer to help, as long as I can also bring my toddler along. I don’t want new parents to feel what I felt. But I may be one of the few like this, which I say only from my own experience. Anecdotal, for sure.

Yet, to me it seems that somewhere, somehow we’ve lost touch with our tribal past. We used to live with one another, depend on one another. Now, as my husband often expresses, we only show weakness when we ask for help, when we expect help. But how can this be healthy perception of those asking for help? Would fewer mothers be diagnosed with postpartum depression if we started supporting them more? Would these new mothers be better nurturers if they too could be nurtured? Can we allow women time to properly heal before abandoning them to the overwhelming new task of caring for babies?

And maybe my experience was a little more extreme, having a high-needs infant. I get that. But I definitely don’t think I’m alone. And I definitely don’t think I will ever fully get over being made to feel silly for asking for some postpartum help in those first few weeks, especially by the people I thought would support me and my child the most.

As I read my former-student’s post, I looked at the comments, at people both indignant that she would call them out and defensive. Like this 18 year-old woman, when I addressed these issues, I got the same response.

In all hopes of making the world slightly better, I implore you, if you find out that you were remiss, either purposely or ignorantly, don’t attack the person coming forward with their pain. Instead, tell them you’re sorry that you didn’t understand. Tell them you never realized they needed you, and offer something in the present. Do it with love if you can.

New mothers aren’t trying to hurt you; they are simply asking for help or trying to deal with new sleep-deprivation and new challenges. I know it’s easy to get defensive. But sometimes it’s best to shoulder that criticism so that you can focus on the other person for a moment and empathize.