Elimination Diets & Breastfeeding
Today’s Bounce Back topic is brought to you by the Misdirected Googlers who erroneously end up at my blog after searching for “list of foods can’t eat while breastfeeding” or “is it safe to eat (insert some junk food I ate a lot of while pregnant) while breastfeeding.”
The answer to that last question is almost always yes. A nursing mother’s list of dietary don’ts is much smaller than the pregnancy list — in fact, other than excessive mercury, caffeine and alcohol, you really can eat and drink ANYTHING you want. YAY! And while we all probably know someone who put herself on a strict elimination diet while breastfeeding in an attempt to isolate food allergies or sensitivities in her newborn, the truth is that this is thankfully very rare. Most babies have no problem with anything related to mom’s diet, and even if they DO, it’s a short-lived, temporary bout of fussiness and does NOT require you to swear off whatever category of food you ate for dinner after one long night of fussiness and gas and spitting up.
I had nights like this, though: when Noah was brand-new I noticed that he became very irritable and gassy and urp-y after I drank a few glasses of orange juice. (That was me trying to be all healthy.) He didn’t sleep a wink that night. Ezra had a similar experience after my mother-in-law made the most bracing, acidic tomato soup I have ever tried to choke down in my life. I ate just enough to be polite and we both suffered for it that night.
But neither of my babies actually had any type of allergy or REAL sensitivity to orange juice or tomatoes or even acidic foods in general. It was more of a first-time fluke when they were very tiny. I thought, with Noah, that even one instance of a possible food problem meant I needed to swear off of it completely, so I did. By the time I had Ezra, I knew better and went on to enjoy lots of spicy or acidic foods later on, once his tummy was a bit more mature.
I knew better the second time because I read this article from kellymom.com about the difference between an allergy, a sensitivity and a total false alarm. And also this one, about the (incredibly persistent) idea that a baby’s gas always stems from What Mom Ate. It doesn’t! It just flat-out doesn’t.
All of this is to mostly just say: DON’T PANIC. Don’t rush to blame a fussy baby on yourself and a late-night indulgence of some chips and salsa. And don’t immediately think you need to choose between breastfeeding and a severely limited diet because of a seemingly-connected bad reaction really early on. MOST babies are just fine with everything you eat. And of the ones that aren’t, MOST babies will very quickly outgrow their sensitivities.
A “sensitivity” to something in your diet usually entails excessive spit-up, colic (hours and hours of unexplained crying), rashes, and nasal/sinus congestion. If the symptoms don’t seem to go away on their own, eliminating suspect foods can help, although kellymom recommends reintroducing the foods back into your diet after a few weeks or months (depending on *how bad* that initial reaction was). Many mothers find that a little digestive maturity on the part of their baby and maybe a little more moderation from them usually solves the problem on its own.
Now, if it’s an actual allergy, generally you’ll know, because it’s a LOT more than plain old fussiness and gas: you’ll see things like a rash, hives, eczema, sore bottom, dry skin, wheezing or asthma, congestion or cold-like symptoms, red, itchy eyes; ear infections, irritability, fussiness, colic, intestinal upsets, vomiting, constipation and/or diarrhea, or green stools with mucus or blood. Awesome. Dairy products are the most common allergic culprits, and anything that you or a family member are also allergic to, but still are rare.
So if you’re new to breastfeeding, don’t feel like you need to treat cow’s milk like the new peanuts and swear off it “just to be safe.” (And yes, I met a mother who did exactly that and basically eliminated everything that she’d heard kids might be allergic to [milk, eggs, nuts, soy, etc.] while nursing. No, there was no extensive history of food allergies in her family, she was just sort of crazy.)
If you still think there’s a problem, be sure to read EVERY WORD of the kellymom article, because it’s really helpful, particularly if you’re trying to figure out just what you need to eliminate. (For example: milk protein sensitivities are not lactose intolerance, though it’s a common misconception that switching to a lactose-free milk will solve the problem.) Even if you haven’t noticed any problems with your baby, it’ll provide good ammunition for the first time someone tries to chide you in public for eating spicy foods with an extra helping of garlic.
Published April 13, 2010. Last updated October 29, 2017.