I recently had an interesting experience helping a mother with a breastfeeding situation. I received her permission to share her story here as a case study to help other mothers/breastfeeding counselors.
The mother contacted me because her baby was experiencing poor weight gain. Baby was three months old and after having gained steadily during the first two months had not gained weight in a month and was still at nine and half pounds. In addition to talking about signs of dehydration, we explored a ton of possibilities during the hour-long call, including the fact that baby started daycare and then weight gain stopped. Towards the end of the call, I asked a couple of questions about the mother’s diet, mentioning that sometimes certain proteins in foods can cause sensitivities in the baby. Mother paused and then said, “so protein might possibly be related to this?” She then shared that she has been on a high protein/low-carb diet that she started last month. My brain tickled with a memory and sure enough in the conference notes from Diana West’s presentation at the 2011 LLL of Missouri conference, I found the note that, “Low carb diets have been observed to significantly decrease milk production.” I suggested mama go back to eating the way she used to do.
At the beginning of this month, the mother emailed me to let me know that she’d discontinued the low-carb diet and baby gained a pound in a week. A second follow-up email reported another pound of weight gain and a third email showed pictures of a happy, chubby breastfeeding baby. I was fascinated at the potent results from this seemingly small/possibly unrelated change.
LLLI has additional information about low-carb diets and breastfeeding women here, but it does not seem to include information about the possible drastic milk supply consequences that we experienced in the case study above. I do recognize that all mothers are different and that some mothers may not experience this effect from a low-carb diet (I fully expect to get some comments reporting that mother is on a low-carb diet and baby is doing just fine). However, after this experience, I know I am going to remember to ask about low-carb diets in future calls with weight gain issues with young babies, because I’m wonder if this might be more common than I’ve realized. Low carb diets are a popular weight-loss solution and there is a lot of information available about them online. People perceive it as a healthy choice and may not ever think to mention it to me. Even though we remind people to expect it to take at least nine months to lose the “baby weight,” postpartum mamas can be very concerned with weight loss and may find a low-carb diet a logical “trick” to try. As I reflect back on the numerous helping calls I receive and put these two elements together, I find myself wondering if some of the “not enough milk”/”baby isn’t gaining weight” calls might have a low-carb connection that I’ve not been catching onto…