When breastfed babies start showing signs of abdominal discomfort, whether by crying or squirming, or just plain being difficult to calm down, you might start to wonder if the problem is you. Or, more specifically, your breast milk. When your baby has gas, does that mean you have to start going on a bland elimination diet to determine the culprit? What foods cause breastfeeding babies gas, anyway?
Friends and family aren't much help when it comes to playing the blame game, I can tell you that. Once they catch wind of your "gassy" baby, just try to stop them from launching into interrogations about what, exactly, you ingested within the last 24 hours. So here's what you need to know to silence the critics and stick to the facts.
It turns out that there is no list of foods that experts advocate all moms avoid while breastfeeding. “Foods that may make a breastfeeding parent gassy do not translate to making a baby gassy,” lactation consultant Leigh Anne O’Connor, IBCLC, tells Romper. So you can tell that opinionated Aunt Becky to cool her jets.
The smelly truth is, gas is a normal bodily function in babies. It kind of makes sense, especially when you think about the fact that, as the website BabyCenter points out, babies in the first three months of life still don't even have fully mature intestines. “Gas is not necessarily a bad thing — people are gassy,” O’Connor tells Romper. “However, if the baby is miserable or has other symptoms — rash, inability to settle down, then you will want to investigate further.
A 2017 study published in the US National Library of Medicine (USNLM) National Institute of Health (NIH) examined food restriction in breastfeeding mothers and its effect on infant health. The study stated that when mothers consumed foods that possibly caused gas in the mother's bowels (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage) the fiber and gas did not pass into the breastmilk. And perhaps even more interesting, when the mothers ate foods that could possibly have had the ability to change the flavor of the breast milk itself (such as garlic), the foods did not usually make the infant fussier. The study concluded that most food restrictions mothers impose on themselves when breastfeeding are unnecessary.
Some babies, however, do have food allergies, but symptoms are different from those of a food sensitivity, such as gas. Statistically speaking, as the website Healthy Children points out, it is rare for babies to exhibit food allergies to breast milk. The website explains that very few babies develop food allergies, such as asthma or rashes, in reaction to their mother's breast milk. If you’re convinced there is a link between your breastmilk and baby’s fussiness, you may want to consider your dairy intake. “Dairy is one of the most common gas causing food. I encourage parents to keep a food journal if their baby seems to be affected by food the breastfeeding parent is eating. You can often find the culprit this way,” O’Connor tells Romper.
The kinds of signs that you would look for if your baby were having an allergic reaction to the presence of cow's milk in your diet as passed through your breast milk might include abdominal discomfort, eczema or hives, vomiting, or diarrhea. Check with your pediatrician if you think this could be the case.
There is no reason, of course, not to do your own "research" if you suspect that your diet might be affecting your baby's tummy. The Mayo Clinic suggests keeping a food diary for up to a week, and writing down how each food seems to be affecting your baby's behavior. Often, gassiness in babies is not related to the content of the breast milk, but rather the position they’re feeding in and the flow of the milk. “Gassiness can be a result of a forceful letdown,” O’Connor tells Romper. “If this is the case then nursing in an antigravity position can help. These can be side-lying, perpendicular on parents’ body, laid back (this is where the parent is sitting way back against a chair or other support and the baby is across the body). If breastmilk is put into a bottle that may contribute to gassiness if the baby gulps air,” she adds.
If your baby's symptoms continue or last for long periods, even after you have eliminated possibly triggering foods, you might be dealing with colic and not food sensitivity (another possibility worth discussing with your doctor).
Food finger-pointing aside, what can you do to help comfort your gassy baby? Frequent burping, of course, helps with gas. BabyCenter advises propping baby up to burp when you change sides while nursing or every few minutes when bottle-feeding. BabyCenter also suggests doing bicycle exercises with baby's legs to help move gas along (this works for grownups too, you know). As always, if your baby's behavior is particularly persistent, consistent, or concerning, consult your pediatrician.
Leigh Anne O’Connor, Infant expert and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant
Jeong G, et al. (2017). Maternal food restrictions during breastfeeding. Korean Journal of Pediatrics. doi: 10.3345/kjp.2017.60.3.70
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