Feeding your baby is an experience that will remain with you for a lifetime. There’s nothing quite like gazing down at your child, so fully reliant on you in that moment, and knowing that you are meeting their every need. There’s also nothing quite like having a baby attached to your breast at 3:00 a.m.
As new parents, we want that feeling–the assurance of knowing that we’re doing is right. That feeling can be hard to come by, especially if feeding isn’t going exactly as you’d hoped.
A baby that refuses the breast or bottle, gets fussy while feeding, spits up a lot, or becomes gassy can make you question everything you thought you knew, and leave you searching frantically for ways to get back on track. Feeding is ever-changing, so what worked a month ago may not work now, and might work again later.
If you’ve been breastfeeding happily for six months and your baby is suddenly fussy at the breast or having gastrointestinal issues, it could be something in your diet.
While there are generally no foods that a new mom needs to immediately avoid when she starts nursing, there may be foods that your baby becomes sensitive to over time.
Before you consider a thorough elimination diet, here are some known offenders in your diet that could be disrupting your breastfeeding efforts.
Foods to Avoid While Breastfeeding
Many babies tolerate the foods in their mother’s diet perfectly well. Exercise the same general caution you did while pregnant: moderation and healthy choices. If you want a cup of coffee, have a cup of coffee. A glass of wine in the evening? That’s okay, too, with a few precautions.
If, however, you suspect something in your diet is making your baby unhappy, here are some things to try eliminating first.
- Chocolate. For decades, women have avoided chocolate while nursing, suspecting that the caffeine content could negatively impact the baby. If you’re concerned about chocolate in your diet while nursing, you can relax. The caffeine content in chocolate is very low, and chocolate in your diet is normally well-tolerated by your baby. Chocolate can potentially cause gas, so if gas is a concern, try switching to a different sweet treat for a week to determine whether chocolate is the cause.
- Spicy Foods. The theory here is that a mom who eats spicy food produces spicy breast milk. While certain foods (garlic, onion, pepper) can change the flavor and odor of your breastmilk, you don’t need to worry that you’re feeding your baby hot sauce-infused breast milk if you had something spicy. In fact, by the time your baby nurses, they are generally already accustomed to the things in your diet, which changed the scent and taste of the amniotic fluid they were exposed to in-utero.
- Fish. Just like when you were pregnant, it’s important to avoid certain “top-feeder” fish that are high in mercury. Mercury is a known neurotoxin which could interfere with your baby’s brain development. Most all fish contain some level of mercury, but not enough to pose a threat to your baby’s development. In fact, including low-mercury fish in your diet while your nurse is an excellent way to increase protein and your omega-3 fatty acids.
- Peppermint. Certain herbs, like peppermint, can decrease a mother’s milk supply. These are called anti-galactagogues. However, you’d have to eat a ton of peppermint for it to reduce your supply. If you’re really craving that cup of peppermint tea or perhaps a peppermint mocha, you can do so without having to worry about a dip in your milk production. If, however, supply does become an issue, it’s best to avoid peppermint until your supply returns.
Foods That Increase Gas
There are countless over-the-counter products available to help alleviate your baby’s gas. From magic herbal droplets to devices that literally “suck” the wind right out of them, the baby gas relief industry is booming, and it’s no surprise why: when the baby is gassy, the baby is not happy.
Babies get gas for numerous reasons:
- Crying. When babies cry, they can swallow air that gets trapped and forms gas.
- Feeding. If your baby latches incorrectly or uses an improper nipple on a bottle, they can swallow air that is trapped inside their digestive tract.
- Nutrition. Breastfed babies may develop gas from something in their mother’s diet.
Spicy or “gassy” foods such as beans, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, onion, garlic, chili pepper, and chocolate may cause some infants gas, however many babies will tolerate these foods just fine.
All babies get gas, but if your baby is experiencing excessive amounts of seemingly painful gas, or an unusual increase in gassiness, it could be something in your diet.
It’s more probable, however, that your baby is just experiencing the normal symptoms of their underdeveloped digestive system. Your baby has been on an amniotic fluid diet prior to birth, and digesting macronutrients (via breastfeeding) is a new task their body is learning to accomplish.
Signs Of Food Allergens
The majority of the time, a gassy baby isn’t a baby that has a food allergy, or even a food sensitivity. However, there are definitely cases of food sensitivities and allergies with babies, and you know your baby best. If you think your baby is suffering from a food allergy, it’s important to address it immediately.
Most breastfed baby food allergies are due to proteins in food that an allergic baby’s body deems harmful.
Some of the most common food allergies in breastfed babies include:
- Dairy. It seems ironic that a baby would be allergic to milk, but some babies have trouble digesting cow’s milk protein, so having dairy in your own diet that is passed through your breastmilk causes a reaction in a baby that has a dairy allergy.
- Eggs. Again, the culprit is a particular protein in the egg that causes the allergic reaction. In a baby who has an egg allergy, the body sees the egg protein as harmful and begins to fight it with histamines, thus causing an allergic reaction.
- Wheat. Wheat gluten protein can also cause allergic reactions in some babies. This does not mean that your baby has Celiac Disease, which is gluten intolerance, it can simply mean their body produces an allergic response to gluten.
- Soy. Soy protein is another known food allergy, but be careful about determining if your baby genuinely has a soy allergy. Soy is a sneaky ingredient added to many foods; if your baby has a soy allergy, you’ll have to practice extra diligence to keep soy out of your diet.
- Nuts. Tree nut allergies are more common in toddlers and older children, but it is possible for a baby to have a nut allergy as well. Babies with a documented egg allergy and/or eczema are at higher risk for a nut allergy.
If you think your baby is experiencing a reaction due to something in your breastmilk, you can look for signs.
Symptoms of food sensitivities in breastfed babies can include:
- Dry skin
- Red, itchy eyes
- Spit up
- Constipation and/or diarrhea.
These could be signs of a sensitivity, allergy, or a food intolerance. If you’ve introduced a new food into your own diet that you haven’t previously had while nursing, that food could be the culprit. If you feel your diet has been fairly consistent, it is possible your baby has developed an allergy to something in your food.
The first step in addressing your baby’s food allergy or sensitivity is to see your baby’s primary care provider–they can help you determine if your baby’s symptoms are, in fact, food-related, or if something else is causing your baby’s distress. They can also help you determine whether you need to follow an elimination diet, and help you determine what foods to eliminate first.
It’s incredibly important to seek medical attention immediately if your baby has any breathing difficulties or severe reactions after contact with a particular food or ingredient, or after eating a particular food. This could be a sign of something more serious, or an allergy that could be life threatening.
If you’re reading this while nursing because your baby just isn’t as happy and settled on your breast as they once were, or they’re consistently fussy from gas and spit-up, we feel you.
Maybe it was your 11:00 p.m. chocolate bar before your baby’s dream feed, or maybe it was the coffee you had to make it through another day on four hours of sleep. More likely, however, it’s just your baby’s underdeveloped digestive system learning to break down food.
You know your baby best. If something has changed about their feeding routine, speak to their primary care provider about how to best address the situation before limiting your diet.