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A Breastfeeding Elimination Diet Is Rough & Here Are 5 Ways To Make It Easier

At some point in those early months of motherhood, your seemingly happy baby might morph into an inconsolable, fidgety, downright miserable person on a sleeping strike. What the heck happened? Is it teething? Colic? A permanent personality quirk that will never, ever end? Please, please tell me what to do, you’ll mutter to your non-verbal infant, who wails right back. And so you’ll do what any modern mom does: Take your weary self to the nearest Facebook group, where you’ll inevitably hear this advice: “It’s an allergy. Go on a breastfeeding elimination diet.”

Now, maybe that’s true. If your baby’s fussiness (which is normal and could be caused by a slew of reasons) is also accompanied by projectile spit-up, vomit, a rash, or congestion, then it might be allergy related. But not likely.

Food sensitivities in breastfed babies are not nearly as common as many breastfeeding mothers have been led to think,” Kelly Bonyata, the board-certified lactation consultant behind the popular breastfeeding resource KellyMom.com, wrote on her site. “Research tells us that the quality of a mother’s diet has little influence on her milk. Nature is very forgiving — mother’s milk is designed to provide for and protect even in times of hardship and famine. A poor diet is more likely to affect the mother than her breastfed baby.” Bonyata said there isn’t a strict list of no-no nursing foods because “most nursing mothers can eat anything they want, and because the babies who are sensitive to certain foods are each unique — what bothers one may not bother another.”

And yet Dr. Sears, a popular pediatric guru with a devoted following of parents, has a strict breastfeeding elimination diet designed for babies whose colic might be triggered by something their mom’s eating. (It consists of a generally bland and restricted diet — heavy on rice-based products and spice-less foods — and lasts for at least two weeks). Even Bonyata and the experts at La Leche League agree that in some rare cases, your baby might be allergic to something you’re eating. If that’s the case, here are some basic tips to start a breastfeeding elimination diet.

1. Relax

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It’s pretty unlikely that last night’s chips-and-salsa binge are causing your baby’s tummy issues. You don’t have to throw out your favorite foods because of a few night’s worth of sleeplessness — even though it’s tempting to blame yourself.  Anne Smith, a certified lactation consultant, clarified that it’s not your milk that your baby is allergic to, but rather foreign proteins from certain foods. “During the first six months of life, the lining of the baby’s stomach is immature, so allergens that appear in the breast milk can get into the bloodstream and trigger allergic responses in some extremely sensitive babies,” Smith wrote for Breastfeeding Basics. “The lining of the intestines is also more sensitive during the early months, and is more easily irritated than it would be later on by the same substances.” The general consensus is that most babies outgrow these kinds of breastmilk-carrying allergies sooner rather than later. This too shall pass.

2. Start With Dairy

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If your gut instinct says something’s not right with your baby, start simple. “If an elimination diet is necessary, it should begin with the top offender, cow’s milk protein,” Maryelle Vonlanthen, a pediatric gastroenterologist at the Arkansas Children’s Hospital, wrote for La Leche League. “Most infants will respond to elimination of cow’s milk from the mother’s diet. It is not necessary to use elimination of multiple foods as a first line of therapy.”

Bonyata agrees, writing that “cow’s milk products are the most common problem foods and the only foods conclusively linked by research to fussiness and gassiness in babies.” She noted, however, that some babies react to other foods, including soy, wheat, corn, eggs, and peanuts. Some breastfeeding women swear that spicy or gassy foods (like broccoli or onions) causes reactions in their babies, but there’s no solid research to support it.

3. Search A Little Deeper

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If dairy isn’t the culprit, Bonyata suggested eliminating a food that you or a family member is allergic to, or anything you eat a lot of. She also said that any food you don’t like, but you’re eating for the health of your baby, might be a culprit, too. “Conscious likes and dislikes of foods are signals that your body may be reacting to them in an abnormal way,” Bonyata said.

4. Keep A Food Diary

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A basic food diary is an important component to the elimination diet, considering you’re already keeping track of wet diapers and nap spacing and which breast you last fed your baby — your sleep-deprived brain can only handle so much. Just jot down everything you eat, along with your baby’s symptoms. Not only will it make your life easier, but it’s a tangible record you can bring to your pediatrician.

5. Give It Some Time

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“Once the mother’s elimination diet has started, it can take anywhere from a few days to six weeks for an infant to show improvement, making it difficult to use elimination as a ‘test’ to prove or disprove allergy to a particular protein,” Smith said. Most experts give a two- to three-week window of time to see if the elimination diet has any real effect.