The ketogenic diet is hot news. Anyone in the diet and fitness industry has probably heard of it by now. While it is touted as having tons of health benefits, reduced inflammation was the biggest selling point for me. It was the main reason Lino and I decided to give it a go.
You see, when I was about 4 months postpartum, I was diagnosed with arthritis. Doctors said it was most likely brought on by the huge hormonal shifts of childbirth (yay). Due to breastfeeding, I was unable to take medications for the pain or to alleviate any of the inflammation. Also, I tend to avoid medications at all costs unless I’m basically dying.
I needed something that would be safe for my son. I also needed something that would stop. the. pain. To be honest, I was ready to try just about anything. So, I went on a hunt to find alternative methods of pain relief. I wanted to know if this diet was something that would be safe for everyone in the family long term. I also needed to know what this change would mean for my family and how hard would it be to implement. It was of utmost importance to know everything I could before committing fully to this lifestyle.
What is It?
For anyone unfamiliar with the ketogenic diet, keto consists of eating high amounts of fat, moderate amounts of protein, and very few to no carbs. It was originally invented as a method to help treat epilepsy in children way back in the early 1900’s. However, it’s had its various forms and titles over the last century.
For the record, it has helped me immensely in managing the pain I experience in my lower back and hands. Though it has not disappeared entirely, it has allowed me to manage without the use of medications. It has also aided my metabolic health quite dramatically, and has helped me shed about 30lbs in the last 6 months. Though none of those things are the main point of this post.
What was of most concern to me was my son. I worried about how the dietary changes may impact him throughout breastfeeding and in the foods we introduced to him as he began weaning. I was concerned the ketogenic diet could impact his development in some way. If there was something that could go wrong, I worried about it.
Unfortunately, the keto community is rather small. There’s hardly any information about the impact of a ketogenic diet on children. So, everything I mention here is purely from my own experiences with the diet. If you’re looking to transition your family into such a lifestyle, keep in mind, your mileage may vary.
Things to Consider Before Committing Your Family to the Ketogenic Diet
First things first, if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding and looking to go full keto, I strongly recommend taking a stepped approach into the lifestyle. By that, I mean lower your carb intake slowly over the course of the next 6 to 8 weeks until you hit below 50g of net carbs per day. Most people tend to go 20g of net carbs and lower, but pregnancy requires lots of energy and you will find yourself needing the boost.
Looking back, this is probably the only thing I would have changed during our transition. I was already hurting, tired, and weak when I decided to go full keto and not only did the transition make it ten times worse, my breastmilk went completely haywire. Which brings me to the next point.
Expect Changes in Breastmilk
The first 2-3 weeks from carb-a-holic to keto turned my breastmilk into almost nothing but water. It also turned blue-ish green for a while. My son suffered as a result as it did not seem to keep him full for quite as long, and I was already struggling with supply due to my recent return to work. I ended up having to supplement with formula quite a bit for those first couple weeks.
After my body finally figured out how to use all that fat coming in, however, my breastmilk was the exact opposite. The thickest, creamiest, fattiest milk I had ever provided was filling almost the entire bottle, with less than a quarter inch of the thinner foremilk visible. My son ate very well during that time.
Unfortunately, I soon discontinued breastfeeding due to the demands of my job. My son weaned from the breast (to formula full time around 7-8 months). At this point, my milk returned to the watery form of before, but I fully believe this had much to do with the weaning and its impact on my hormones.
The Younger the Kid, the Easier the Transition to Keto
Bean started eating whole solids and purees at the age of about 5.5 months. Of course, I did a ton of research about how a high fat, low carb diet could impact a child.
What I discovered is that children are born in a state of ketosis anyway. So, their livers are already somewhat efficient at utilizing fats for fuel. To me, this meant my child was relatively safe eating our diet and if I started him young, would not have to worry about some of the negative side effects of transitioning (i.e. keto flu).
It also allowed for him to have a greater focus on healthier, whole food options, with little reliance on sugars and processed junk. We quickly noticed that overuse of store bought purees (which tend to have higher carb counts and are almost always sweetened with a fruit) made him less willing to eat vegetables by themselves.
I also want to point out that I do not restrict my son from having carbs. I guess you could say he’s not really even fully on the ketogenic diet. He eats starchy veggies and fruits at home and some processed foods when he visits his grandma or when we eat out. I have always believed that restriction would be teaching him to vilify foods. I want my child to have a healthy relationship with food so that he does not end up in my shoes later in life.
With older kids, though, expect there to be some pushback during the change as they have already begun to establish food preferences and may be less than thrilled to be losing out on the processed junk.
It Improves Many Conditions Associated with Metabolic Dysfunction
During the first several months of his life, Bean suffered from plenty of diaper rashes, severe gas, silent relux, and a mild case of eczema. Oddly enough, there is research to suggest such those things can be a sign of poor metabolic health. His constant struggles with his bowels and skin rashes influenced my decision to purchase an infant probiotic.
Of note, none of the available infant probiotics indicate that there is a causal effect between skin conditions and probiotics. However, I was willing to try anything. Perhaps it was coincidence or perhaps probiotics helped, but after about 7 days, my son’s skin began clearing up. This continued for the next month or so before he stopped showing any signs of it.
Consequently, he also started having less diaper rash issues and he hardly has any gas nowadays. His reflux also disappeared and he seems to be generally more happy. However, I would like to point out that humans are extremely complicated. I cannot say that probiotics and keto were solely responsible. Yet there is a small part of me that truly believes that if he may have had an easier time had I been fully keto and metabolically healthy during pregnancy. (That could also just be my mom guilt, but hey, at least I’m owning it).
How Does It Stack Up?
The ketogenic diet has been a perfect fit for our small family. Although, I’ll admit, my son doesn’t really live a fully ketogenic lifestyle. He gets to enjoy many of the fruits and starchy veggies Lino and I choose to avoid. However, these are in more limited in quantity than other vegetables simply because they happen to be less available at home. I will say he eats very limited amounts of processed junk carbs and sugary snacks.
We don’t typically give him fruit juices. He doesn’t eat much pasta or rice either. He gets plenty of meat and veggies loaded with high quality fats, such as butter or olive/avocado oils. We also give him these freeze dried veggie cracker things (which sound disgusting, but really taste and look like a flattened rice cake).
Bean has been a phenomenal eater for the most part, which I attribute to our choice to do both baby led weaning and purees since 5.5 months. While he isn’t a perfect angel at every meal, he normally eats a relatively healthy diet. What’s most important to me, however, is that he is developing a healthy eating habit and reaching all of his developmental milestones appropriately.
The ketogenic diet has been a great change for our family. I couldn’t be more pleased with the results it has had on us. My son is an amazing eater and is growing up healthy and strong. He no longer struggles with many of the skin issues or digestive problems he had early on. I can’t help but be pleased Bean is learning a healthy relationship with food. He was such a breeze to transition too.
After all those things to consider, the only thing I regret about shifting our family to keto is that I didn’t start sooner. What do you think about the ketogenic lifestyle? Is there any specific questions you have about keto? Hit me up in the comments below!