My Big, Fat, Low-Carb Rainbow Pregancy

First of all, allow me to just remind everyone that I am not a doctor. I’m not a birth professional, either. I am literally just a person on the internet, so if you cite me as a medical expert, shame on you. This is just my story. If you decide to take that story and use it as a justification to eat nothing but celery sticks and a hard-boiled egg every day for nine months, don’t go blaming me if your baby is born with fifteen fingers and a beak.

I’ve touched briefly here about my battle with secondary infertility and second-trimester miscarriage. I did not start keto to get pregnant, but that’s sure what happened (it’s pretty common, actually). 

How sure was I that I wouldn’t get pregnant? So sure, that in the 48 hours before I realized my period was late, I ate a pound of sushi, got royally drunk at a karaoke bar, and spent 6 hours in the salon chair, marinating in bleach and dye until I looked like a My Little Pony (not necessarily in that order, and it was my birthday). 

I have receipts.

While I was still in shock on the bathroom floor, I decided then and there to have a low-carb/keto pregnancy. In the previous 18 months, I’d had two miscarriages, one of them medically traumatic, and two chemical pregnancies. For about nine months, beginning two weeks after my last miscarriage, I was strict keto, and felt better than I had in ages. I was in a few keto support groups, and I noticed that a lot of folks were finding themselves unexpectedly expecting. 

I did not dream it would be me. Even when my cycles went from 21 days back to 28. Even when it became clear that my body was repairing whatever nebulous autoimmune/hormonal catastrophe had been torturing me for over a year. 

At that moment, the only thing that made sense to me was to keep doing what I’d been doing when I got pregnant. The last thing I wanted to do was throw my hormones back into disarray and lose another baby. 

Yes, I was nervous. No, I had no idea what I was doing. All I knew for sure was that this baby might not stick around, no matter what I did. So what did I have to lose? 

You mean you ate nothing but bunless bacon burgers and iceberg lettuce?? FOR SHAME, CAROLINE.

Hardly.

My Typical Pregnant Keto Menu

  • Breakfast: Usually chopped up vegetables from last night’s dinner scrambled with a couple eggs. Maybe some cheese, or chicken sausage if I was ravenous. If I wasn’t super hungry, or was craving a donut or something, I’d have a protein bar or shake.
  • Lunch: Massive salads–seriously, just an absolute unit of a salad–loaded with more chopped vegetables, topped with avocado and/or chicken. Occasionally a bunless, grass-fed burger, grass-fed sausages and high-quality sauerkraut, or leftovers from dinner.
  • Snack: Raw veggies and homemade full-fat dip, or cheese. Cucumbers and Tajin was (and is) my most favorite.
  • Dinner: Meat and two veggies, at least one of them green. 
  • Dessert: Fat bombs or a half-melted chocolate protein bar. 

In addition, I drank at least a gallon of water and plenty of electrolytes, daily.

Well, it’s obviously a miracle both of us survived that dietary shitstorm. I, too, cannot believe how irresponsible I was for not adding cups of rice and slabs of bread and bowls of ice cream to those heaps of green veggies and high-quality proteins. /sarcasm

I did not count calories, and I did not limit most portion sizes. If my body was screaming “more broccoli!” that’s what we did. Baby wants half a sweet potato? You bet, baby. Even an occasional piece of fruit wasn’t out of the question. For the first time in my pregnant life, I was able to actually listen to my body tell me what it needed, rather than what my mouth wanted.

This is why I never said “I’m having a keto pregnancy” out loud, except to a handful of trusted people. The misconceptions of what keto looks like, and the idea that I was on any kind of “diet”, would have invited more controversy than I wanted to manage during my white-knuckle rainbow pregnancy. But tell people what I’m actually eating, and suddenly everybody is congratulating you for being a poster child for radiant, healthy gestation. 

The benefits of my avoiding sugar in pregnancy

My keto pregnancy was the healthiest, and physically easiest, of all my full-term babies–despite the fact that I was now “advanced maternal age” (I turned 35 the day before I discovered I was pregnant). I still gained ample weight, because that’s what my body does during pregnancy. However, I gained less than usual. I wasn’t bloated. I didn’t have the SPD that crippled me in my last full-term pregnancy. My nausea and heartburn were minimal. My vitals were consistently perfect. Also, after each of my babies had gotten progressively bigger, my keto baby was my smallest, at 7lbs 10oz. 

A few days before Fire Chief was born. I was at the stage of pregnancy where I would not allow my moon face to be photographed.
A few days before the Senator was born. It’s probably hard to spot all the differences, but the real tell here is that I am willing to photograph my face.

The Senator came out nursing like a champ and was over birth weight in something ridiculous like six days. She rolled over at five weeks, spoke at six months, and is currently providing expert commentary on the economy for the BBC. She is smarter than you, me, and at least three-quarters of Jeopardy! champions.

I’m, uh…I’m a little frightened of her.

Keto and the postpartum experience

I struggled with getting back to keto immediately post-delivery. I weirdly crave oatmeal like a crazy person in early postpartum, every time, so that combined with exhaustion resulted in a lot of poor choices. Believe it or not, I gained as much or more weight in the fourth trimester than in the previous three put together. So that was fun.

Once I got back on track, I feared that my low-carb luck had run out. For several months, the weight would.not.budge. Turns out, I am just one of those lucky women who can’t lose anything in the first six months or so postpartum. This was the biggest psychological challenge I’ve faced on keto. Continuing to eat in the way that I know is best for my health, even while my body was not changing, was a whole other level of challenge. I mean, if I’m going to be 50 pounds overweight, shouldn’t I at least get to enjoy french fries? But I stayed the course, because I knew that if I didn’t, all those old, miserable symptoms would plague me. 

That was when I decided that feeling my best was just as important as fitting into a pair of jeans. 

When my stubborn body finally decided it was safe to start shedding weight again, it fell off quickly. Here I am at 8 months postpartum, 10 months, postpartum, and 12 months postpartum. Thanks to IntensiT Dance Fitness, by 15 months postpartum, I was at a lower weight and had better muscle tone than I did when I got pregnant with #1.

These were before and after pics from a fitness challenge. I don’t usually hold up random papers for pictures in my sports bra.

What to do if you’re interested in a keto pregnancy

If you’re thinking about a low-carb pregnancy, do your own research. Talk to your midwife or OB. Many, many care providers are fully on-board with this strategy. In fact, at my very first prenatal appointment with my very first baby, the only nutrition advice my OB gave me was to stay away from sugar. I really wish it hadn’t taken me three babies and eight pregnancies to listen to him.

If your care provider rejects a low-carb diet out of hand, maybe find a new one. Does that seem like an overreaction? Consider this: insisting on high-carb, low-fat diets for people who are vulnerable to diabetes and trying to build an entire human brain (guess what those are made of!) demonstrates a dogmatic clinging to an outdated nutritional model. Even if low-carb pregnancy isn’t a dealbreaker for you, that way of thinking may come back to haunt you at some point over those nine months. 

Do you really want to put your birth and your life into the hands of someone who thinks there’s no benefit to re-examining information and evolving positions? 

Not a fun way to spend a pregnancy or a birth.

Keto built our caboose baby, in more ways than one. I can’t tell you what’s right for you, but I can promise you, it was right for me. I can tell you it was, overall, the best pregnancy I’ve ever had. I can point you to many, many women with similar experiences; I am not an anomaly. What I am, is grateful. 

Ten fingers, ten toes, and not a beak in sight.

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