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. As explained on the Mayo Clinic's website, while some breastfeeding women insist that avoiding certain spicy or gassy foods helps alleviate gas in their babies, this claim has not been substantiated by research. The website, KellyMom, echoed this statement when they reported the following: "The idea that certain foods in any mom’s diet will cause gas in her baby is incredibly persistent but is not founded in research." 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. And, as anyone who has ever burped a baby knows, babies can swallow lots of air when they're nursing or drinking from a bottle. As lactation consultant Jan Barger writes on BabyCenter:
According to Barger, gassy or spicy foods will only cause a local reaction in your GI tract (i.e. gas in your body), and will not affect your milk.
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 this is different from 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. As Healthy Children states, only two or three out of every 100 exclusively breastfed babies show signs of allergic reaction to their mother's milk. When this is the case, the site explains, the reactions are usually to the cow's milk present in the baby's mother's milk (if she ingests cows milk products such as yogurt, pudding, ice cream, or cheese). 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 to your breast milk might include abdominal discomfort, eczema or hives, vomiting, severe diarrhea, or difficulty breathing lasting up to several hours after breastfeeding.
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. Some foods that they suggest eliminating that week are foods made from cow's milk, peanuts, soy, wheat, eggs, corn, and any spicy or gassy foods (i.e. onion, cabbage, garlic, cauliflower, broccoli, cucumbers, and peppers). Healthy Children explains that 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 a food sensitivity. That possibility should definitely be discussed with your health care provider.
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 him 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.
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