- On March 18, 2019
Your body is strong. You have grown, delivered, and supported your baby and you want to lose those extra few pounds that helped keep your baby safe and healthy in the womb. You don’t need to kiss carbs goodbye or start adding butter to your coffee. If you’re a breastfeeding mom, you body is working with you to grow your baby healthy and strong while you return to your healthiest weight.
Two of the most common diet trends right now are the Paleo diet and Ketogenic diet. Social media icons boast quick weight loss and indulgent, high-fat recipes. As with most diets, calorie restriction of any kind may result in weight loss; however, diets restricting certain food groups can mean you aren’t getting all of the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients you and your baby need.
The Paleo diet is made up of foods that may have been eaten during the Paleolithic era. The diet is made up of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, meats, fish, and oils-which means no grains, legumes, dairy, or processed foods1. While this diet doesn’t specifically restrict carbohydrates, the limited choices of foods and doing away with grains can result in a low amount of carbs in the diet. The grain restriction may make it more difficult for moms to take in enough vitamins, minerals, and fiber, so they need to be sure they are getting their daily values from other sources such as increased vegetable intake1. Breastfeeding mothers can safely follow a Paleo diet if it best aligns with their beliefs, but the composition of the diet will not promote weight loss more than any other calorie restricted diet.
The classic Ketogenic diet is more restrictive than the Paleo diet and is based on a 4:1 ratio of fat to carbs/protein. This comes out to about 90% of calories from fat, 6% from protein, and 4% from carbs2. The diet may be helpful to people with epilepsy, but can be dangerous for other individuals. The brain and heart rely on carbohydrates as fuel so cutting back on them over the long term can lead to heart problems, kidney damage, and osteoporosis3. A low-carb diet such as keto can alter levels in the blood and this can happen even faster during breastfeeding4. The high fat intake of the keto diet can also lead to excessive intake of saturated fats-which can clog arteries and lead to cardiovascular problems.
Breastfeeding and Weight Loss
New mothers may be drawn to the hype of these diets without realizing their bodies are naturally equipped to care for their baby and lose excess pounds. Breastfeeding requires an average of 500 extra calories per day for the mother5. Mothers may choose to add these calories using nutrient rich foods or those interested in weight loss may return to their normal pre-pregnancy food intake6. By following a regular diet, you can ensure you have enough nutrients to pass on to baby, but the extra calories burned in milk production will lead to gradual weight loss.
Am I restricting my baby?
Each person’s needs vary, so make sure you are getting enough calories, protein, and fat by talking to a registered dietitian or using ChooseMyPlate.gov for nursing mothers. The general guidelines for breastfeeding are to make sure you are getting at least 210 grams of carbohydrates, 71 grams of protein, and 3.8 L of water each day. For fats, it is recommended you aim for 1.3 grams of alpha-linolenic acid from foods such as flaxseed, walnuts, fish, canola or soybean oil and 13 grams of linoleic acid from safflower oil, sunflower seeds, corn oil, pecans, etc7.
Mothers with obesity may greatly benefit by working with the body’s natural weight loss systems to shed excess pounds. Overweight women who lost 0.5 kg per week between 4-14 weeks post partum exclusively breastfeeding did not impact their infants growth7. These women lowered their caloric intake by 500 calories each day and exercised for 45 minutes, 4 days a week. If a woman chooses to breastfeed, this time period can be a great opportunity to get into the habit of eating a variety of foods and beginning an exercise regimen that suits her lifestyle.
What about keto and paleo?
There is not much research studying how these diets affect milk production, but both of these diets can restrict nutrients your body needs to function normally and to produce milk. The keto diet can be dangerous, even for patients under the direct supervision of a physician. To ensure you and your baby are getting all of the elements you need, it is best to follow a diet with variety, low in saturated fat, and meets the minimum requirements suggested through MyPlate or your registered dietitian.
Written by: Jordan Da Silva, MS
Dietetic Intern, Lenoir-Rhyne University
Graduation Date: May 2019
University of Georgia, MS in Foods and Nutrition, BS in Nutrition Science
- Mayo Clinic. (2017).Nutrition and Healthy Eating: Paleo Diet. Retrieved from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/paleo-diet/art-20111182
- Charlie Foundation. (2019). Diet Variations. Retrieved from: https://charliefoundation.org/diet-plans/
- Bilsborough, S. A., & Crowe, T. C. (2003). Low-carbohydrate diets: what are the potential short- and long-term health implications? Asia Pac J Clin Nutr, 12(4), 396-404.
- von Geijer, L., & Ekelund, M. (2015). Ketoacidosis associated with low-carbohydrate diet in a non-diabetic lactating woman: a case report. J Med Case Rep, 9, 224. doi:10.1186/s13256-015-0709-2
- Dewey, K. G., Heinig, M. J., & Nommsen, L. A. (1993). Maternal weight-loss patterns during prolonged lactation. Am J Clin Nutr, 58(2), 162-166. doi:10.1093/ajcn/58.2.162
- S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health. (2014).Your guide to breastfeeding. Retrieved from http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/breastfeeding-guide
- Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids (2002)
- Lovelady, C. A., Garner, K. E., Moreno, K. L., & Williams, J. P. (2000). The effect of weight loss in overweight, lactating women on the growth of their infants. N Engl J Med, 342(7), 449-453. doi:10.1056/NEJM200002173420701