I got an email from a blog reader asking, "Is the hCG diet safe for breastfeeding? the OBGYN's nurse said she doesn't know if its safe to take the HCG drops while nursing. We all agree no one while nursing (probably not even not nursing) should cut back to 500 calories a day... but they say the diet will still work if you just eat healthy and take the HCG drops, it'll just work slower, not so dramatically.
DO you know? Is it safe to take the HCG drops while nursing? Does it cross over through the breast milk? Does it affect the breast milk supply or anything?"
I had never heard of this fad diet and had to Google it.
I think the first question to ask is, "Is the hCG diet safe for anyone at all?" We'll get to that.
HCG supplements/injections are not listed in Dr. Hale's Medications and Mother's Milk guide which I own because it's a supplement and not a medication.
The official hCG diet website says regarding the hCG diet and breastfeeding: "So, is it ok for a woman to breast feed while on the HCG diet? The definitive answer will need to come from her doctor. However, it looks like it wouldn’t be a good idea, simply because the caloric needs during breastfeeding are just too great and not a conducive to following the HCG diet."
Consuming a mere 500 calories per day, as outlined by the hCG diet, is not safe for any adult (man or woman), let alone a breastfeeding mother. Breastfeeding burns about 200-500 calories per day, and the best research says that breastfeeding mothers need to be consuming a bare minimum of 1500-1800 calories per day (often more). If a mother is not eating enough calories, her milk supply will suffer. Here are a few articles outlining how to lose weight safely while breastfeeding, so that you can maintain your health and your milk supply:
and an article on herbal supplements and other diet aids while breastfeeding:
I am highly cautious with anything involving artificial hormones. While they can have their place in certain medical situations, it's not to be taken lightly. I tried to find info on the side effects of hCG injections and found this about the hCG diet on Discovery Health online. HCG is only approved by the FDA as a fertility drug (you heard that correctly--should newly postpartum moms be taking a FERTILITY DRUG as a weight loss supplement???), and it is not FDA approved as a dietary supplement.
According to Discovery Health, "There have been few reports of health problems developing as a result of the hCG diet, although there are some risks, among them an increased risk of blood clots, headaches, restlessness and depression. Also, you may feel, well, like you're pregnant -- swelling, breast tenderness and water retention, anyone? HCG can also cause a potentially life-threatening condition called ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS)."
One aspect of the question was whether hCG supplements could cause a drop in milk supply, even if the mother ate a sufficient number of calories. While this might be a question better answered by an endocrinologist, I would be concerned that along with the other pregnancy symptoms that are a side effect of hCG supplementation, a drop in milk supply could be a potential side effect. I looked far and wide to find the chemical mechanism by which many mothers experience a drop in milk supply when they become pregnant while still nursing. Rising levels of progesterone are responsible for the drop in milk supply, but I could not find an answer as to whether hCG supplements could stimulate a rise in progesterone (subsequently causing a drop in milk supply even if mom's caloric intake were sufficient).
The hCG diet official page states a breastfeeding myth, "If she fails to eat properly, this will negatively affect the quality of the milk she produces. The baby may not receive nutritious milk if a woman does not eat enough or enough of the right things." Contrast that with research from La Leche League on the quality of mom's diet and its effect (or lack thereof) on the quality of her breastmilk: "In recent years, research has confirmed that even if some nutrients are missing in a woman’s daily diet, she will still produce milk that will help her child grow. There is very little difference in the milk of healthy mothers and mothers who are severely malnourished. For example, if a mother’s diet is lacking in calories, her body makes up the deficit, drawing on the reserves laid down during pregnancy or before." Mother's milk supply may drop and her health may suffer for her lack of adequate nutrition, but the quality of her breastmilk will not be affected.
I'm not really in the loop in terms of what's popular, and since this diet fad seems to be having its 15 minutes of fame, I wanted to make sure that moms had the info to weigh the risks.