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Breast Feeding and Low Carb/High Fat Diets

Breast Feeding and Low Carb/High Fat Diets
December 8, 2011 Patrick Nemechek, D.O.

Poor Breast Milk Production May Be A Sign of Inadequate Calorie Intake

A friend of mine was asking about the effects of a low carbohydrate diet on breast-feeding.  She was told to increase her carbohydrate intake while breast-feeding in order to maximize breast milk production, and wondered if this is true or just some outdated advice.

She’s been following a low carbohydrate lifestyle for a while and didn’t want to increase her carbohydrate intake unless it was necessary for her child’s health.

I hunted around and found that the vast majority of studies recommending an increase in carbohydrates to promote breast milk production involved breast-feeding women from developing countries. 

These studies are focused more on the fact that many women from these cultures are undernourished (i.e., not getting enough calories on a daily basis).  Inadequate maternal nutrition seems to be the drive cause of poor breast milk production.

Remember breast milk contains lots of energy and if the mother doesn’t have enough nutrition (i.e. dietary energy)¬†to sustain herself, she certainly won’t have enough to adequately produce breast milk.

Low Carb/High Fat Makes a Good Combo for Breast Milk Production

I did find this study which suggests that a low carbohydrate/high fat diet for breast-feeding mothers seems to be very healthy and safe during pregnancy. 

A reduction in maternal carbohydrate intake (and an intake of fat) did not affect the amount of lactose (milk sugar), protein or volume of breast milk produced. 

The amount of milk fat, energy and infant consumption was actually increased.  These are all good things in terms of providing nutrition to breast-feeding infants.

Summary

My take on this is that a high carbohydrate diet (typical American diet) combined with inadequate net caloric intake (i.e., mommies trying to get thin too quickly) causes a reduction in breast milk volume post-partum.  

 The time-honored solution is to increase carbohydrate intake (i.e., up the calories).

The better solution seems to be to decrease your carb intake, increase your fat intake and your breast milk production problems should end.

Additionally, omega-3 fatty acids are very important during pregnancy and breast-feeding.  Your baby has a massive need for omega-3 fatty acids to support the rapid brain growth that begins after birth. 

I recommend 1-2 fish oil capsules (about 300 mg DHA+EPA, the amount found in the standard 1000 mg fish oil capsule) twice daily.

5 Comments

  1. Katie Jolly 4 years ago

    I am a naturopath in NZ and have been following a low carb diet for a while. I increases carbs in the third trimester as the studies I read swayed me away from that sort of eating. I found my energy,mood and bowel function all suffered and have gone back to a ketogenic diet whilst breastfeeding. My milk supply has been fine and my baby girl is thriving! I do have 1/4 tsp of fenugreek seeds to help with supply daily (as an insurance), and the effect on my moods and energy is amazing. I agree making sure the fat content is high is so important, and also getting in a food whack of greens.

  2. Kylee 5 years ago

    I am going to try the LCHF diet starting tomorrow. The only thing is I don’t think I’ll limit dark green veggies. Sorry but don’t believe in limiting that. I also have noooo problem drinking my coffee with high fat cream, eating an avacado a day, and using coconut & avacado oil to cook with. Also eating high fat yogurt, green smoothie a day. Limiting fruits but not being overly obsessed about it. I think the most important part is getting rid of the refined sugar and flour. That is what is killing us. I am breastfeeding and my baby is almost 5 months old. I do not think it will effect my milk but make my milk more nutrient dense. Breast feeding moms must eat at least 1800 calories a day. You can still lose weight eating that much, it’s obviously not as rapid but without refined sugar and flour I am sure it will be a quicker process. Good luck to all!

  3. Anna 9 years ago

    Am new to low carb diets and am currently breastfeeding. Unfortuntly going on a lowcarb while breastfeeding significatly reduced my milk. I decreased my carb intake (from vegetable & fruits -but still cut out and sugar) i also increased my fats. It worked, so i guess going low carb for the 1st time while breastfeeding in a no-no? On the other hand, just reducing my carbs (i dont think am low carb now) has improved my health and i hope am setting an example for my baby to have good healthy eatig habits!

    • Author
      Patrick Nemechek, D.O. 9 years ago

      Anna, You need to concentrate on eating more calories from fat. Maybe a good glass of 1/2 and 1/2 twice daily will do the trick.

  4. How about asking women who have been on low carb diets and breast-fed their babies?

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