Post #5: Should I Eat Zero-Carb While Pregnant?

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The Doctor Wanted to Tell Me Something

In my fifth year of low-carb dieting, I discovered an online forum for people who were following a Zero-Carb diet and after reading their inspirational journals, I decided to switch from low-carb to NO carb.  I eliminated all sweeteners (including all sugar and all artificial sweeteners) from my diet.  I began eating a high-fat, no carb, all animal-based diet and immediately felt amazing!

 

The persistent sweet-tooth and constant carb cravings that had tortured me since childhood were now gone.  I had far more energy, and I even felt sharper, mentally.  Also, I was able to keep off the 120 pounds that I had lost on a low-carb diet without having to exercise or starve myself.   I knew that I would NEVER go back to eating carbs again.

 

Then, I found out I was pregnant.

My husband and I had been trying and praying for a baby for a couple of years, but my low-fat, calorie-restricted diet had left me without a menstrual cycle.  After wondering if I would ever be able to have children, I was completely thrilled to finally be pregnant.

 

But this did bring up a very interesting and scary question…

 

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Is it safe to eat a Zero-Carb diet while pregnant?

 

Most popular literature (including America’s go-to preggo book, What To Expect While Expecting) strongly suggests that pregnant women eat a high-fiber diet while avoiding large amounts of fat.  Fiber and lowered fat intake are supposed to help women avoid common pregnancy plagues, such as heart burn, morning sickness, constipation, excessive weight-gain, and hemorrhoids.

 

Ah, the many joys of motherhood!

 

My OB/GYN already knew that I didn’t eat carbs, and even though she was supportive of my decision, I was still nervous to go so blatantly against standard recommendations.  For the last several years, I had been confident in my own dietary choices, but I suddenly felt differently when my foods also affected another human being.  And not just any other human being.  My baby.

 

So, of course, like all modern mothers-to-be, I started Googling.  At the time, there wasn’t much information or research out there about the dangers (or benefits) of eating a zero-carb diet while pregnant.  I wanted to do everything that I could for my little one, and I certainly didn’t want to put my own dietary and weight goals ahead of a healthy baby.  I found myself having doubts about my diet for the first time in a long time.

 

Like many pregnant women, I wound up with some pretty strange food aversions, though, which made zero-carb eating more difficult. I came to a point where I couldn’t stand the thought of eating a plain hamburger patty, and I’d nearly gag at the sight of some of my favorite foods, including STEAK!  A carnivore that didn’t want a big, juicy steak???  What was happening to my brain?

 

Despite the bizarre turn-offs, I ate quite well while pregnant: lots of bacon, eggs, cheese, chicken wings, and most any other meat that sounded good at the time.  I didn’t eat vegetables, fruits, or grain.

 

Well, that’s not true. I did eat one vegetable.

 

I desperately craved pickles.  Yes, I know it’s stereotypical, and I hated myself for being the pregnant lady who couldn’t resist a stupid pickle, but they were my one kryptonite. I allowed myself that one and only exception from the animal kingdom, though there is very little (any?) nutritional benefit to eating them. They were just GOOD.

 

Thankfully, I avoided all other carby pregnancy cravings.  No hankerings for pancakes, ice cream, or doughnuts.   My body seemed to support my decision to avoid carbs, which made my confidence grow. And the kicking, turning, growing baby girl in my uterus was also a pretty good indicator that things were going well.

 

Other signs that my body was okay with my diet:  I had ZERO morning sickness, ZERO indigestion, ZERO problems with hemorrhoids (*gag*), and ZERO problems in the bathroom. (What fiber?)  My weight-gain was pretty average, according to my doctor, and the baby seemed to be growing at a very normal rate.  All was well.

 

And then…when I was 33 weeks pregnant, my water broke.

 

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From Zero to Sixty

 

I want to be honest: I initially hesitated to write about my premature delivery, because I didn’t want people jumping to the conclusion that it happened because I was hog-deep in bacon.

 

But after talking with my doctors (I had a few in the course of this), not one of them seemed to think there was any correlation at all between my diet and our daughter’s early arrival. As it turns out, there are an estimated 15 million babies born prematurely every year.

 

And of all the millions of mothers who are ordered to follow diabetic diets, statistics show that they are no more likely to deliver early than mothers eating a high-carb diet.  Regardless, I never met a physician who told me that eating Pop-Tarts would have helped me achieve a full-term delivery.

 

This next part is kind of amazing to me.  Even though Julia was born at 33 weeks gestation, she was completely healthy and able to breathe and eat on her own.  She needed no oxygen, feeding tubes, or medication (other than treatment for jaundice).   She was fully developed and healthy.  We had a happy, healthy baby girl, and I spent the next year enjoying motherhood and nursing my baby as I continued eating a zero-carb diet.

(Side note–it’s James here. You can read Julia’s birth story over on my blog. It’s kinda cool. In fact, I’ll throw in a bunch of links to videos of our kiddos. I’m kind of that Dad.)

 

 

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And Just When We Got Used to Having One Kid…

When Julia turned one, I found out I was pregnant with our son.  Once again, I continued eating a zero carb diet.  (No pickles this time around, though!)  I gained roughly 25 pounds with my second pregnancy.  I didn’t suffer morning sickness, heartburn, post-partum depression, high blood sugar, blood pressure problems, or other pregnancy-induced issues.

 

Given that my first delivery came via an emergency C-section, my doctor ruled out natural labor for me in the future. So, my doctor performed a scheduled C-section for our son at 37 weeks, and we welcomed our son, Thomas, at the end of 2012.

 

I want to be really clear about something:  I am not a doctor.  And I am not here to tell anyone (pregnant or not) how they should eat.

 

My goal here is to speak to anyone out there who wonders if a zero-carb diet is safe for their unborn baby.  I want to speak of my own experiences without trying to persuade others to follow.

 

I was able to have children while on a zero-carb diet when I wasn’t able to have them while eating a low-fat, carb-laden diet.  I was able to do so while avoiding many typical pregnancy problems, giving birth to healthy, beautiful babies without eating bread, pasta, cereal, sweets, vegetables, or fruit.

 

And since I know that many of you have been reading this journal with an interest in weight-loss, I will add that I was able to have my sweet babies without regaining the 120 pounds that I had lost.  In fact, I now weigh exactly the same that I did before having children.  I was back to my pre-Thomas weight within two weeks of his birth.  Again, no starving.  No workouts. And NO CARBS.

 

I will close this post by admitting that I was rather naïve.  I actually thought that following a zero-carb diet while pregnant was going to be the hardest part.  Little did I know that my greatest zero-carb challenge was just around the corner….

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42 Responses

  1. wonderful post! Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  2. Tammy Kincaid

    Hi I’m really inspired by your story. I was wondering if you ever took any sort of multi-vitamin. Im doing low ca carb and want to try no carb. I know you mentioned nothing but meat and water but wasnt sure if you took a vitamin. Thanks

    • I don’t take any vitamins/supplements normally. I took a prenatal vitamin some while pregnant, though it wasn’t because I thought I needed one. It just made my family feel a little better. I only took it on the nights when I actually thought about it, which was hit-and-miss.

      Thank you for reading!

  3. Great information…thanks for sharing?

  4. Larry Rotenberg CFA

    I always wondering about zero carb because on lchf I still read about people making ketobread etc using sweeteners cauliflower pizza and wonder aren’t these the foods we are trying to avoid? isn’t lchf about simple choices…I also crave diet coke etc….so I was thinking the same things why not zero carbs? glad I read your story…..one question I love wild salmon and tuna/? aren’t they zero carbs….thanks for the great read

  5. Fascinating! I am just beginning this ‘low carb’ journey. I think my biggest struggle is psychological. We have been programmed to eat from the food groups, lots of fruit and veggie. Potatoes and fresh bread were a staple growing up. I Don’t know you at all but I am s happy for you. You seem to have found happiness and contentment in yourself. Keep blogging.

  6. Hello Kelly!

    I have read your posts and I can’t help feeling inspired!

    I have a question, I read that you were able to maintain your diet through pregnancy but what during post pregnancy? Did you breastfeed or bottle feed your baby?

    I am a breastfeeding mom who wants to start no carb diet but I am scared it will reduce my milk supply.

    • jamesdhogan

      Kelly’s husband James here… thanks for reading! Kel breastfed with both our children. Always consult your doctor (and in this case, lactation expert) before making major changes in your diet. They’ll be able to help your specific needs. //jh

  7. Stellar blog! Do you use spices or marinade on your meat? How do you prepare them?

    • jamesdhogan

      Kelly’s husband James here… thanks for reading! Salt and pepper make for great steaks and burgers. Many marinades and off-the-shelf spices contain sugars. Read the labels carefully. 😉 //jh

  8. Dear Kelly,
    Thank you for sharing your success story, with struggles and all! But I didn’t catch any info as far as maintaining normal bathroom habits. I sufferDiverticulitis and keeping my self from having constipation is a must and a real struggle. My daughter is GF and I tried once before but no fiber made my problem continue. I tried Atkins diet when I was in my 30’s and I lost 14 lbs in less than two weeks but was beginning to be tired of bacon and eggs and bun less cheeseburgers. I abandoned the diet because the family and friends were discouraging me and kept telling me how bad that diet was. Could you explain how you kept your body from constipation and what’s normal for you. That’s my main complaint. Diverticulitis is not fun! Please reply! I’ll be waiting!

    • I have found that for myself (and both of my Low-Carb children, bathroom issues are non-existent. If any of us ever feel even mildly constipated (which is almost never), we just increase our fat intake. Works like a charm every time. And if tummies are upset, decrease fat and eat a little more lean meats. My kids and I all “go” easily and like clockwork.

      I’m so sorry to hear about your struggles. That sounds terrible!

      Thank you for reading and please keep in touch!

  9. Do you cook with any butter or oils?

    • jamesdhogan

      Kelly’s husband James here… yep! Butter is super great. So is bacon grease. Thanks for reading! //jh

  10. Fascinating blog, I would love to see your meal plan for the day, I eat 20 g or under of carbs so no carb is a bit intriguing to me.

  11. Rose Tanner

    Dear Kelly,

    I’ve lost 75 on weight watchers and low carb, but I’m stuck. I need to lose 40 more pounds. Please, please, please be my accountability friend. I know I’m asking alot.

    • Of course! Message me or email me anytime! I’d love to keep in touch and hear about your progress! Also, you can go to the Facebook page “zeroing in on health” to meet up with tons of other zero carbers! I’m pulling for you!

  12. I sent a post 2 days ago, why don’t you run it? Because I am not a member or something? Is it a “club” for members only? Thank ‘s

    • Not at all, and I’m so sorry if it felt like I was excluding or ignoring you. The fact is, I have many DOZENS of pending questions and comments right now, so you’re amongst friends. 😉

      I am a mother to two little ones and am also a full time teacher. My blog and Facebook page are flooded with questions right now, which is completely wonderful! (And also completely overwhelming.) I am responding to questions and approving comments in between classes, in between diaper changes, and as I watch my kids play on playgrounds. I’m doing my best, and I appreciate all patience. I’m not trying to exclude anyone. I definitely want to give each question my full attention. When I have any to give.

  13. I’m really happy for you that you didn’t suffer any morning sickness and were able to stay zero carb while pregnant. It took me 3 years to lose 100lbs eating low-carb and then I maintained that weight loss for another 4 years – until I got pregnant. I had severe morning sickness (really a mild form of hyperemesis gravidarum), was nauseated 24/7 and throwing up several times a day. I tried so hard to stay low-carb, but I couldn’t stomach protein at all, not even protein shakes. And I couldn’t not eat, either, as together with the nausea I had raging hunger that literally hurt if I didn’t eat (despite knowing I’d then throw up). I had to eat carbs. And despite throwing up four times a day until week 16 and once a day until week 25, I gained 26 pounds. Once I stopped throwing up, I went back to eating low-carb and didn’t put on any more weight – but once my son was born, I also could not lose those twenty-six pounds. My second pregnancy four years later I was even sicker – throwing up eight times a day meant I lost about 15lbs so by the time my second son was born I was basically the same weight I was after the birth of my first son. But I am still struggling to lose those twenty-six pounds from my first pregnancy, and the seven pounds I put on during my eldest son’s first month of life because my sisters who’d had babies before me told me I wouldn’t have milk if I didn’t eat carbs (they were wrong, as I found out once I stopped eating carbs again), and the ten pounds I put on a couple years later during a few weeks of utter frustration at not losing any weight despite eating low carb and the stress of losing my job and moving house) so I threw in the towel and ate what I wanted for 10% of that time.

    Anyway. That’s my struggle. I’m glad you didn’t have to face the same thing.

    • Your story made me shudder. (Also, I think I’ll officially stop with two children now!)
      That sounds awful!! Bless your heart. Best of luck to you in all future endeavors, and thank you for taking the time to read the blog.

  14. You and your children are fantastic, can you imagine them with little brothers and sisters, double and triple the fun.

    Life is fantastic!

    Children make it that way.

    Put another cup of water in the soup..

  15. […] I conceived, carried, birthed, and breastfed both of my babies while on a zero-carb diet.  I had no morning sickness with either child. I was also back to my pre-children weight very quickly after having them. My kids are both healthy and quite intelligent (If I do say so myself!). If I am blessed with more children, i wouldn’t think twice about eating a zero-carb diet during my pregnancy. In fact, I wouldn’t do it any other way! (Note: For more information about Kelly’s Zero Carb pregnancies read her blog post: Should I Eat Zero Carb While Pregnant?) […]

  16. I’m so excited to find your blog! I can’t wait to read all of your entries. I just completed (in November 2014) a VLC pregnancy. That’s very-low-carb, not zero carb, but close! I ate high-fat dairy (butter, cream, cheese), meat, nuts, and non-starchy vegetables. I did it on purpose to avoid hyperemesis, and it worked, by the grace of God. I went from uncontrollable vomiting (in prior pregnancies) to just constant nausea from week 4 till birth – big improvement. I was nervous about doing this diet, because of all the literature saying (with no foundation) that it’s dangerous, but I was really pleased with the results, and our baby is super-super-healthy. Here’s my story: http://whiningpuker.blogspot.com/2014/12/avoiding-hyperemesis-gravidarum-with.html

    Thank you for your blog – I can’t wait to learn all about what you’re doing!!
    Diana

  17. The previous comments are really interesting to me because I have a podcast about hyperemesis gravidarum and I’ve been exploring the idea of using a low carb (ketogenic diet) to avoid or control HG. And as Diana stated, there is a lot of confusion about the safety of this diet during pregnancy, etc. But there is also a lot of evidence that it helps with all sorts of pregnancy complications, including gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, swelling, excessive weight gain. I would love to have you on my podcast to talk about your experience during your pregnancies. It might help reassure some ladies that it’s safe if they do better on a low/no carb diet. Please contact me if you are interested.

  18. I appreciate, cause I discovered exactly what I was looking for. You’ve ended my 4 day lengthy hunt! God Bless you man. Have a great day. Bye

  19. I’m really liking your story so far! It’s really inspiring! I know I need to quit sugar and sweeteners. Aspartame and sucralose are poison so I avoid those, but quitting sugar is HARD! The only time I’ve ever lost weight was when I cut back on sugar for a couple months and lost 20 pounds. Maybe if I give it up for good I can get to my goal weight!

    However, I can’t imagine giving up fruits and vegetables! How can I live without my precious broccoli and zuchinni and apples and cherries?! I’ve had problems before when I don’t get enough fiber. I guess every body is different!

  20. Bummed that your doctor wouldn’t allow a VBAC! My first was a C-section because he was breech and my doctor couldn’t allow a VBAC because the hospital won’t employ an anesthesiologist 24/7, so she was really supportive when I went somewhere else to have a VBAC (she is still my primary physician) and right now I am 37 weeks and planning a second VBAC…I’m so glad that I was able to have my first VBAC, it was a much better experience for me.

    I am not zero carb, but low carb. Thankfully the cravings have not been a problem for me, although I wish that I had known about zero carb before my pregnancy as I would have loved to try that to maintain my weight much more easily (not tracking macros would be such a blessing).

    Did you experience any transitional dietary changes that bothered you (as many get when going low carb and not keeping up with electrolytes) like fatigue, cramping, or constipation?

    • Sometimes with emergency c-sections, they do a vertical cut. If that happened in this case, no way will it be safe for her to have VBACs. Those only work with the bikini or low horizontal cut.

  21. Did your test results for the glucose test at 28 weeks come back as ok while doing lchf?
    Thank you

    • jamesdhogan

      Kelly’s husband James here–she didn’t take the full glucose test. She used the OTC at-home devices to check blood sugar.

  22. HI There!
    The pickles make perfect sense for a gestating human doing zero carb….blood volume increases by approximately 50% so you would crave those salt bombs to help you generate the increase in blood volume….this is why Paula Radcliffe smoked a major marathong (NY I think) 3 days after giving birth…fascinating stuff….Keep blogging and spreading the word.

  23. Genevieve

    Hi Kelly!

    Love your story!

    Did you ever find out anything about eating the zero carbs while pregNant… how it affects the kids? Like if they eat carbs, are they likely to gain more weight?

    Or do you have your kids on low carb?

    • jamesdhogan

      Kel’s husband James here–Kel had two good pregnancies while eating low/zero carb, and our kids eat a very low-carb diet (meat, fruit, vegetables, as much whole/organic as possible).

  24. This is fantastic! 8 weeks here and I followed the low carb regimen for years before I knew I was pregnant. Once I found out, switches to eating everything per the baby books and have felt pretty awful on top of the ‘pregnancy awful’. Just switched back to low carb 3 days ago and already feel remarkably improved. This blog helps aliveate some of my initial fears about doing this! Thank you so much!

  25. Hey Kelly,
    Thanks for writing, I was low carb before pregnancy, then listed to traditional advice, tested for gestational diabetes…
    Met with the dietician and she is super against the low carb thing, which was totally keeping my blood sugars in line, but totally for putting me on all kinds of diabetes meds…. so I’m glad to hear you’ve had success being zero carb. Just reassuring. Thanks! 31 wks today, we’ll see. 🙂

  26. Catherine

    I so wish I had found you a year ago!! I lost 125 pounds in a little over a year eating low carb (under 20 grams a day) I did the elliptical 2 hours a day. Always fearing I would get fat again. I maintained for two years and then I got pregnant. Everyone (family, friends, Google and even doctors) told me to think of my baby first. Eat carbs, you can lose it later. I gained an embarrassing 85 pounds! Almost 8 months later and I’m still carrying around an extra 60 pounds! My daughter has been exclusively breastfeed and once again I was told to think of her first.
    About a week ago I decided to give low carbing while breastfeeding a try- it’s going great!! I’m producing the same amount of milk and losing weight. Hoping to lose all the weight before I get pregnant again and be able to actually manage my weight!
    So glad I found your website, you have put to rest all my fears.

  27. Thank you soooooo much for this post!!! I truly appreciate it! I’ve been trying to lose weight for a long time now. Once I started the first week of Dukan diet of eating zero carbs I was AMAZE of the weight loss and most importantly how I felt. A week later I went back to eating healthy carbs. ( fruits and vegetables ). I then started to question the reasons why I was feeling extremely fatigued and started to pick back up the weight. So I decided to go back to zero carbs. Again, felt GREAT and plenty of energy! The reason why I appreciate your post so much is that now I’m having our second child and I was looking for pregnancy cookbooks. They all had too much carbs! I said to myself,”oh no back to having no energy during pregnancy with a 3 year old!” Then I came across your post! Oh my gosh I’m so relieved! Now I know I’m not the only zero carb eater! I now have a zero carb family! Well I hope this post finds you. Many blessings to you and your family!

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