For most of us, considering what we eat while we're breastfeeding is no more than "Will I spill this on my baby's head?" or "Can this be eaten while barely awake with one arm in the dark?" For other moms, their needs and considerations are significantly more weighty. Some babies can have a negative reaction to foods the mother eats while breastfeeding. If this is the case for you, you might've heard about the Dr. Sears diet, and how miraculous it is for some moms. But does the Dr. Sears breastfeeding diet work, and is such an extreme step necessary for you and your baby?
The Dr. Sears breastfeeding diet is an elimination diet developed by Sears' wife, Martha, a registered nurse, author, and lactation consultant. The La Leche League leader developed this diet in response to babies who were having severe allergic reactions to products in their mother's breast milk. It's an extreme diet that only allows for range-fed chicken and lamb, rice and millet, zucchini and squash, pears, and diluted pear juice in the first two weeks. That's it. You're allowed salt and pepper, but no oil or other seasonings. It is the strictest of the strict elimination diet and not designed as a long term solution, but instead to tare the body to zero, allowing the baby to heal before introducing additional food groups one at a time.
What is the Dr. Sears breastfeeding diet after the first two weeks? It's the slow introduction of additional foods where you "gradually add other foods to your diet, one every four days, starting with those less commonly allergenic." Some of those foods are beets, carrots, salmon, peaches, and avocados — but apparently only those from California. Sorry, Florida, your avocados are obviously unwelcome here. (Please send them to me. I'm not breastfeeding and I love guacamole.)
You don't get any of the fun foods that make dinner a good time and breakfast tolerable until you've added practically everything else. The last foods introduced are coffee, tea, dairy, soy, shellfish, tomatoes, cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, citrus, tomatoes, and chocolate. Your morning double mocha latte with extra whip will likely be the very last thing you get to have on this diet, and it might have to wait until after you stop breastfeeding if there's a return to your child's symptoms.
Not all breastfeeding diets are so extreme, but there are many variations on this theme. Elimination diets like the one from Dr. Sears are fairly standard practice in treating babies with allergic responses, according to Pediatric Allergy and Immunology. "All food proteins can pass from the maternal diet into breast milk. If an allergy due to exposure to a protein via maternal milk is diagnosed, it is necessary to modify the diet of the mother, with professional dietetic support and supervision," the researchers noted.
In the interest of supervision, I spoke with International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) Kate DiMarco-Ruck of The Parenting Studio, serving moms in the greater New York metro area, and she tells Romper the Sears diet isn't your only option, but elimination diets can help. "My feeling on elimination diets in general is that sometimes they are necessary and can often make a huge difference in a child who is suffering from 'colic'-like symptoms or allergic reactions."
It might not be necessary at all. She stresses the need for a full evaluation to determine the correct path to take, saying, "A baby can be experiencing 'colic' symptoms for many reasons, not just food in a mother’s diet. If a baby isn’t transferring adequate amounts of milk and is constantly hungry, they can be hard to settle. If a mother has an over-abundance of milk that is overwhelming for baby, they can be hard to settle — that’s why it’s important to look at everything that is happening."
As for the diet itself, she has a more relaxed, easier method that might appeal. "While I recognize the value of an elimination diet, I would hesitate to jump to something this specific at the beginning. Life with a newborn is hard enough — seriously cutting out major food groups for a sleep deprived parent is a lot to ask. If food irritation is thought to be the culprit, I would provide research for a mom to make her own choice about a diet to follow. Most babies do well with the elimination of dairy products." DiMarco-Ruck then moves on to adding more allergenic foods you might need to eliminate.
Your best option is to find a lactation consultant and have an evaluation done before you start a diet that makes the cabbage soup fad look appealing. See if there's another solution and undertake your diet with caution and assistance. Being a mom is hard and I know diets make me super cranky — they might do the same to you.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.