I get asked about my low carb pregnancy in 2008-2009 a lot, so I thought I would finally document it for good and just refer everyone here. lol
The back story is that I was chronically ill for several years, starting in 2005, but did not know what was wrong with me. My husband begged and pleaded with me to see a doctor. I refused because I was pretty certain that they would not be able to come up with a logical diagnosis. I was right.
In November 2007, about ten years after our first pregnancy, and 35 years old, (yes, go ahead and laugh now!), we decided it was time to try to conceive again. I was having difficulty getting pregnant. I was also having some bizarre female problems of which I will spare you the details. I finally decided it was time to get checked out by the doctor. I had thyroid levels checked, routine blood work, etc. Nothing showed up as being abnormal. In late April 2008, I started earnestly praying and was led by God to investigate the possibility of candida overgrowth. I did a spit test and was horrified by the results. I was encouraged by a relative to do a 21 day vegetable fast, also known as a Daniel fast, for health reasons. I dropped about 20 pounds in that short time but I still wasn't well. Feeling better, but still not well.
I did some research on the internet and found that carbohydrate restriction was beneficial to getting rid of candida. I started cutting back on carbs, not really following any certain plan, just doing a general restriction by carb counting, probably around 50 a day. I also starting consuming large amounts of extra virgin coconut oil for its anti-fungal properties. And then the unbelievable happened in August 2008: I got my big fat positive!
This is me, in the orange, shortly before my pregnancy.
Okay, So Now What?
Now I am a bit nervous. I have candida and now I am pregnant! What do I do? How should I eat? I was so confused.
Back in 1998, at age 25 with my first pregnancy, (you're still laughing, aren't you?!) I followed the standard American Academy of Pediatrics What-To-Expect diet, including plenty of fruit, low fat dairy, margarine, and lots of whole grains. Cause you can't grow a baby without lots of whole grains, right? Well I was young and wanted the best for my baby, of course. So I did what I was advised by every pregnancy magazine, book, and my midwife. The internet was still fairly new back then and pregnancy info online was pretty scarce. In return for my obedience, I nearly flunked my glucose tolerance test and gained about 40 pounds. I was also extremely tired and depressed the entire time. I also had incredible post partum depression which I'm sure wasn't helped by my spectacular diet.
Since insanity is doing the same thing over and expecting different results, I purposed that I would not follow the standard pregnancy diet. Pretty obviously my past over consumption of sugar got me into this predicament in the first place.
I did what any web savvy 30 something female would do. I researched the internet about low carb pregnancies. Man, I felt like I was back in 1998 cyberspace all over again. Except for information about how dangerous low carb pregnancy is, I could find very little specific advice. What I did find was most recommendations were to follow the maintenance phases of whatever standard low carb plan you are following. I researched the maintenance phases of South Beach and Atkins and sort of morphed the two. I will interject here that I was very new to low carbing and since there is little info about low carb pregnancy, I was sort of winging it. I also discovered that ketosis during pregnancy was supposedly a big no-no (more on that later) and so I determined the range for my daily carb level would be over 50 and under 100 total carbs. On a side note, I did not subtract fiber from my carb counts. I counted total carbs, not net carbs.
In asking what did I eat, it would probably be better to tell you what I did not eat. I avoided sugar, white flour, and most fruits. I also did not drink much milk but consumed plenty of cheese. I ate meats, eggs, cheeses, green vegetables. Since I like structure and simplicity, I sort of aimed for about 25 total carbs per each meal and I ate about four times a day. If I ate bread it was of the low carb variety. I would occasionally eat oatmeal and beans in my chili. I also found that having a small potato here and there did not bother me.
Uh Oh Ketosis
I have heard a lot of arguments about ketosis during pregnancy. The who-cares camp uses the logic that a woman who is experiencing morning sickness will naturally enter a ketogenic state on her own without even trying and will deliver a healthy baby.
Tell anyone that you are going a low-carb diet during pregnancy, and everyone will start sending up red flags, especially those who do not fully understand low-carb or the misaligned Atkins diet. The Atkins diet, by the book, contains 4 phases. Dr. Atkins stated in his revised Atkins 72 book that he always prescribed the maintenance phase for pregnant patients.
When I did my low-carb pregnancy, as I stated earlier, I did maintenance phase and made sure that I stayed in the range of 50 to 100 carbs a day, since that appeared to be the recommended range.
Since originally posting this blog, I have become more informed on fetal development. The baby will naturally go into a keto adapted state especially in the last trimester, due to accelerated growth and weight gain, regardless of what the mother eats. The main concern is to not go into starvation mode and to make sure that you eating enough calories, protein, and fats, especially saturated animal fats. I have compiled plenty of resources on the Pregnant Atkids blog in case you want to do your own research.
I want to add here that I am not a doctor and you need to do your own research and do what you feel is best.
In the process of searching for help, I found an excellent Yahoo group called Pregnant Atkids for women who are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or nursing, and doing low carb diets. I left the group after my 2008-2009 pregnancy, only to rejoin after a surprise positive pregnancy test in May 2010. Unfortunately I lost that pregnancy at 7 weeks gestation. I continued to be a member of the group while my husband and I tried to conceive again. In October 2012, I was blessed to become the new owner of Pregnant Atkids. I encourage any woman who is interested in, or following low-carb while pregnant, nursing, or trying to conceive to join us. We still have a Yahoo Group as well as a closed Facebook group. You can also find our companion blog here. The blog is a compilation of all of the files and links that have been on the Yahoo Group. I felt that it was important to have the information in a public and easily accessible place, so I created the blog. I continue to add information to it regularly.
Low-Carb Friendly Pregnancy Eating Plans
I get asked all the time how a woman should start eating if she finds out that she is pregnant if she wants to avoid the dangers of the Standard American Diet, or SAD. These are some plans that are already out there and have been used successfully by others.
Dr. Michael Fox's Insulin Resistance and PCOD Diet
In my research for the Pregnant Atkids blog, I discovered that a low-carb friendly fertility doctor came up with this eating plan for his PCOS patients. This is a plan that you can start before pregnancy and continue while pregnant, if you skip the weight loss phase during pregnancy. The third phase of this plan is very similar to the guidelines that I came up with for my own pregnancy diet. Insulin Resistance and PCOD diet.
Dr. Brewer Pregnancy Diet
With my last pregnancy in 2010, I endeavored to follow the Dr. Brewer Pregnancy Diet, which is nutrient dense and all about helping nourish both mother and baby. Unfortunately, I lost that pregnancy at 7 weeks, but felt that I should mention this diet here as a viable alternative. This could be easily made low carb if you choose low carb options from each food category. Dr. Brewer Pregnancy Diet.
Weston A. Price Foundation Diet for Pregnant and Nursing Mothers
While most people would not consider Weston A. Price to be low-carb per se, I am a big believer in pregnant women getting the most nutrient dense food possible. I also like the fact that WAPF embraces healthy fats. I am a big believer in eating real food. As far as consuming grains, that would have to be a personal choice. Weston A. Price Foundation Diet for Pregnant and Nursing Mothers
Healthy Baby Code
One more resource that I have discovered is Chris Kresser's Healthy Baby Code. His information does require a membership to access, but his blog is free. He also had a very informative podcast with Jimmy Moore. The podcast and other info can be found on the Pregnant Atkids blog. Healthy Baby Code Blog
Did I get morning sickness? Oh, did I get morning sickness! Try, all day, can't get off the couch, every smell makes me sick, sickness! I have heard that advanced age women who are pregnant have more enhanced morning sickness, unfortunately! My sweet sister Jilly informed that her midwife prescribed half of a B6 vitamin before bedtime and half of one shortly before waking up. When I started doing this, I got my life back! I have also heard that B12 is also beneficial at warding off morning sickness. If you can stomach eggs, pardon the pun, they are full of both B vitamins. They are also full of fat and a great pregnancy food. I also found that peppermint and ginger teas were helpful with settling a queasy stomach.
Since I started my pregnancy already quite overweight, I was advised by my doctor to not gain more than 20 pounds. I religiously weighed myself every day and pretty much stuck to plan the entire time. Unless you want to include my husband's occasional plying me with chocolate milkshakes for their supposed labor inducing qualities, during the last week or so. Delicious? Yes. Labor inducing? Notsomuch! Much to my delight, and my doctor's, I managed to only gain 20 pounds.
How Many? How Long?
Me at 41 weeks
Two questions I was asked a lot at the end: How many are you carrying? And when are you due? You look like you are ready to pop! If you look at the photo, you can tell that most of my weight gain was baby. And he did not want to make an appearance on his own, so we had to help him come out. We scheduled an induction on May 11, 2009 at 1 PM. He was born the following day at 12:26 AM.
Yes, that bump is the baby!
Kicking and Screaming
Matthew being checked out by the labor and delivery nurse
Matthew weighed in at 8 pounds, and 12 ounces, so half of my weight gain was literally baby! I ended up losing the rest of the baby weight within the first month due to nursing. Before you start getting jealous at how fast I lost the baby weight, I fell off the low carb wagon, assuming that I could eat as much as I did during my pregnancy, and gained back the 20 pounds. :\ I ended up restarting on September 9, 2009, and have been on Atkins low carb ever since.
I hope this answers your questions. If not, you can ask me in the comments section below, or on my facebook page The Low Carb Mom.