After writing this frivolous post, several people emailed me or commented that, unlike me, they regrettably can’t eat whatever they want they’re breastfeeding. I hear of so many moms who cut breastfeeding short because they’re miserable subsisting on a limited diet. One of my mini missions in life is to support breastfeeding moms – in particular those ones who face challenges. I know I wouldn’t love nursing nearly as much as I do if I had to give up all of my favorite foods or severely restrict the variety of things I could eat.
Now before I go any further, two things: I do have moments when I’m not a fan of nursing like, for example, when I’ve just finished feeding my baby in the middle of the night and then my toddler wanders in and finds me and asks for mama’s milk and throws a tantrum when I gently tell her the shop’s closed and it’s time for her to go to sleep. I also am writing this post to help moms who suspect their nurslings may have food sensitivities and am, by no means, suggesting that it’s in your head if you think your baby gets extra fussy or gassy when you eat a particular food.
That said, food sensitivity in infants is actually quite rare. I know this from my own personal research, and I verified it with my mother-in-law who is a certified lactation consultant at a pediatric hospital.
Many of my fellow nursing moms are amazed that I can nosh in tikka masala, spicy lentils, and pop jalapenos into my mouth as if they were candy. I eat cruciferous vegetables like broccoli as well without any fear they’ll cause distress in my baby. He seems to not only tolerate but even thrive whether his breastmilk is spiked with curry, cayenne pepper, or chocolate. However, I have had babies that have had been gassy and/or have seemed uncomfortable. In fact, I wondered if Mary Elizabeth might be sensitive to dairy and did ultimately decide to eliminate it from my diet for a two week trial to see if it made a difference. When many of her symptoms seemed to disappear after I cut out all dairy, I assumed we were on to something. But my mother-in-law suggested I slowly reintroduce dairy back to see if any of the symptoms appeared once again. This would offer further proof that the dairy was the culprit behind her fussiness. Lo and behold, her symptoms did not surface again. I started eating dairy again, and everything was fine.
So many moms jump to an elimination diet or even just assume they can’t eat spicy food or other specific foods that have gotten a bad rap. Food made with cow’s milk are the most common to cause problems in babies and are about the only food group that research has conclusively shown to negatively affect some breastfed babies. Most moms can eat whatever they want without worrying about it bothering babies. This doesn’t mean your baby won’t get fussy; it just means your wee one’s fussiness probably has nothing to do with what you’re putting in to your mouth.
“Most infant fussiness is normal for a young baby, and is not related to foods in mom’s diet. If your baby is sensitive to something you are eating, you will most likely notice other symptoms in addition to fussiness, such as excessive spitting up or vomiting, colic, rash or persistent congestion. Fussiness that is not accompanied by other symptoms and calms with more frequent nursing is probably not food-related.
Food sensitivities in breastfed babies are not nearly as common as many breastfeeding mothers have been led to think, however.”
There are a lot of misconceptions out there about this topic of food sensitivity, and I hate to see nursing moms eliminate some of their favorite food from their diet when it might very well be completely unnecessary. I make tons of milk, and I learned quickly that if I tried to nurse as recommended and nurse for about 10 minutes on one side and then switch, my poor baby would get nothing but the foremilk that’s basically skim milk containing tons of lactose. This would cause discomfort in my infant and also result in green stool (rather than that lovely, bright yellow mustard-colored goop). So what I’ve always done ever since I learned this with second baby is to nurse on one side per session and to not switch sides until the next feeding. This ensures my baby is getting plenty of the rich hindmilk.
My mom-in-law has also reminded me that it’s not as if what you eat goes directly to your breast. In other words, you don’t need to steer clear of a particular food just because it gives you gas. But let’s say your baby is gassy. Do his bubbles and toots seem to bother him? If not, there’s no need to change anything. A happy baby is all that matters; prepare for her bum music to occasionally embarrass you, however. I’ll never forget the time Madeline expressed herself very loudly as an infant during Mass. Several people turned around and looked at us, and I know they were thinking that a baby that small could not have made a noise like that. I swear it was her!
More recently, I was giving a speech to an intimate group of women when Thomas “expressed” himself. Then he sighed contentedly, and his face broke into a big grin. Nice.
Keep in mind, too, that different cultures don’t swear off their regular cuisine simply because they are breastfeeding. So many American women think they can’t eat ethnic cuisine when they’re nursing, but there are women across the globe who eat the flavorful stuff all of the time.
Now if you really do suspect your diet might be contributing to your baby’s fussiness, you may need to consider an elimination diet. Start first with dairy products since, as I mentioned above, problems with cow’s milk problems are the most common. You need to eliminate all dairy for at least two weeks. If your baby’s symptoms disappear, then try doing what I did and slowly re-introduce the dairy again. So often we think that there’s a correlation between what we eat or what we’ve eliminated from our diet when, in fact, a baby has just outgrown a fussy period. I use the analogy of someone with a cold that persists for longer than a few days. This person might be convinced she needs antibiotics even though her cold is very likely a stubborn virus. She goes in to her doctor, demands antibiotics (which puts us all at risk for antibiotic resistance, but that’s another post for another day), and then when her symptoms magically disappear over the next day or two, she says, “See? I knew I needed antibiotics!” The reality is the cold probably had run its course, and she was going to get better in that time frame regardless. (This isn’t to say some colds turn into sinus infections or other bacterial infections that would benefit from antibiotic treatment.)
I just always hate to see breastfeeding mamas made miserable because of what they think they cannot eat for the sake of their babies. The website Kelly Mom has great information on this topic if you’re interested in learning more. I’m sure the La Leche League site has resources as well.
Here’s to happy eating for both mom and baby!