Healthy Living

Is Keto Diet Safe For Pregnant Women?

Healthy eating during a pregnancy is vital for the fetus’ growth and development, as well as essential to preventing nausea and vomiting for the mother-to-be. Eating 100 grams of proteins per day, supplementing with vitamins and minerals and eating 300 extra calories during the second and third trimester is highly recommended by websites doling out advice to expectant mothers.

Of all the required nutrients, proteins play an important role in the development of fetal tissues, including in the expansion of breast and uterine tissues of the child bearer. One way some mothers ensure a steady supply of protein is to follow the ketogenic diet, high in fat derived from protein sources and low in carbohydrates. It is important to be aware of the positive and negative impacts when making the conscious choice of following the keto diet during pregnancy, since the child’s development in the womb could be negatively affected.

It is worrisome to many prospective parents that no study with human subjects as the central focus has conclusively proven the positive effects of ketosis on pregnant women. In one study published in 2013 conducted on pregant mice, it was found that mice fed with keto foods 30 days prior and after gestation formed embryos with disproportionately sized organs. The mice embryos had a larger heart and smaller brain.

When compared with the pregnant mice fed the standard diet, the embryos inside the mice on keto foods had smaller pharynx, cervical spinal cord, hypothalamus and mid brains.

A woman considering having a baby wrote to renowned fertility specialist and founder of Jacksonville Center for Reproductive Medicine Dr. Michael D. Fox. She enquired about this particular study on pregnant mice that showed such detrimental side effects on the unborn mice fetuses. He replied saying that when there is inadequate research, it is best to trust the advice of experts like himself in the field of fertility.

In Dr. Fox’s study and practice since 2004, he has never noticed any adverse impact of the ketogenic nutritional approach. He gave the example of the physician and nurse part of his team who tried it and can vouch for it. Fox then went on to cite the example of the cavewoman who did not eat carbohydrates and said that life as we know would not exist if ketosis in pregnancy was bad.

Pregnant woman A nine months pregnant women poses for a studio portrait. Photo Tim Clayton. Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images

According to Dr Fox, the consumption of excessive carbohydrates during pregnancy has worse implications, like exposing the child to hypoglycemia. Increase in insulin affects the brain development of the male and female baby fetuses.  

He believes carbohydrates are the real enemy. “I would characterize carbohydrates as a metabolic poison and that ketogenic nutrition is the only way to prevent the above.” His final word of advice to the woman was to simply inform doctors without using the keto diet terminology that she would prefer to follow a diet avoiding sugar and starches, while eating whole foods.  

Dr. fox in his advice column said that obese women should ideally lose weight before trying to get pregnant, but not to worry about getting on the keto diet as the metabolism will improve in one or two months. Also, the additional fat cannot affect breast milk quality and the stored fats will be automatically utilized by the body as fuel.

Estrogen, to some small extent, in the breastfeeding woman, is always there but it is never a matter of medical concern. Intermittent fasting done to avoid fat accumulation in breast milk could cause the body to produce stress hormones that could in turn affect the quality of the breast milk, Dr. Fox said.  

What does the U.S. Public Health Service suggest?

Neural tube defects ( birth defects of the spine and brain) can be prevented by following a diet rich in folic acid for the first 28 days of pregnancy according to the U.S. Public Health Service, if the woman is aware of the pregnancy that is. Folic acid is found in leafy vegetables, nuts, berries, beans and citrus fruits.