I’ve never had a food allergy and no one in my family has ever dealt with food allergies, so it was a surprise and an adjustment of my expectations when I found out my baby was most likely reacting badly to something I was eating and getting transferred to her through my breast milk. She didn’t just have colic (whatever that is, really). She had severe gas pains and eventually even bloody stools. I couldn’t stand to see my daughter in so much pain and couldn’t wait to properly identify the culprit, so I eliminated the three foods my lactation consultant said she saw babies react to the most often: gluten, soy, and dairy.
Generally, nursing moms don’t need to worry about what they eat negatively affecting their baby. I learned, however, that I am one of the lucky not-so-few whose baby has issues with some foods. How could the food I was eating matter to my daughter’s digestive issues? Proteins from the foods I eat are absorbed into my body and ultimately end up in my breast milk. Since a baby’s digestive tract is still immature until about 6 months of age, it’s not uncommon for them to have issues during those early months. And for some babies the issues last until a year old, and sometimes longer. For more information on food sensitivities in babies, I found this Kelly Mom article very helpful.
When I thought that gluten, soy, and/or dairy were the offenders causing the gastrointestinal issues in my daughter, I stopped eating all three immediately. No last supper or final hurrah. My husband happily took care of the beers and cheeses I had stocked up on and were looking forward to eating. I found that restricting my diet wasn’t the hard part; it was waiting for the change to take effect. Over the next couple days, when my baby would cry and experience her then-normal pains, I would wonder why I was limiting myself in this way if it wasn’t doing any good. It was frustrating. But it can take two or up to even three weeks to fully get the proteins from those foods out of your system, so I was patient and waited. Sure enough, by the next week her bouts of inconsolable crying where much more sporadic. The week after that they were totally gone. She was a new baby! It made the inconvenience and depravity completely worthwhile.
And inconvenient it was! Eliminating gluten or soy or dairy would be very doable, but all three at once? I won’t lie, it was difficult. But I took a positive approach. Instead of focusing on the foods I stopped eating, I celebrated the foods I was eating and loving in place of them. It’s about enjoying the foods you eat, whatever they are. With my giant bags of quinoa, oats, and brown rice at the ready and my local beef and produce CSAs going strong, I was ready to take on this challenge. Pinterest was a convenient way for me to save and organize new gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free recipes I had discovered online. I found some dairy-free paleo food blogs that gave me a wealth of ideas. Gluten-free vegan food blogs were good as well. I found I could substitute coconut aminos for soy sauce and that there’s such a thing as chickpea miso made from fermented chickpeas instead of soybeans. My go-to, easy weeknight stir-fry dinners were safe! I could still eat chocolate and steak and sweet potato fries. Not to mention all of the avocado I wanted. I was already in the habit of reading ingredient labels, but I made sure to double check for ingredients like soy lecithin and whey. The biggest challenge was dining out. Thankfully in today’s dining culture, many restaurants are sensitive their customers’ allergy concerns and dietary needs. I simply explained that I couldn’t eat gluten, soy, or dairy, and most servers were amazingly helpful in helping me find something on the menu I could eat. Salads were often the easiest thing to order. But sometimes dining out was a bigger hassle than it was worth, so I generally just ate at home. There were a few things I missed (beer, burgers, pizza, ice cream), but honestly they were foods I was better off not eating anyway. I didn’t feel like I was subsisting on gruel by any means. On the contrary, I made some fantastic meals that just happened to fit within the limitations of my elimination diet, and I discovered some great new resources for meal ideas. My husband rarely noticed that the meals I was serving were diet-friendly, only that they were delicious. Sometimes that meant telling him to get his own almond butter banana muffins.
About a month after I started the elimination diet, I was ready to experiment to see which foods were and were not the culprits in giving my daughter such an unhappy early few weeks. I started with dairy. At the recommendation of my lactation consultant I tried goat cheese. The protein from goat’s milk is different than cow’s milk and can often be more easily digested. So I started with a little goat cheese for lunch. Then I had a little more for lunch the next day. Then a little more for lunch the next day. On that third day, my daughter had a horrible bout of painful gas. Was dairy one of the culprits? A big, fat affirmative! So I stopped eating dairy again and waited another few weeks for it to leave my system. Next I tried reintroducing gluten. I ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich one day (oh how I had missed them!), and drank a beer the next day. Every day I ate a little gluten and waited, but my daughter never reacted and I just kept eating it. When we finally reintroduced soy, it similarly proved to be fine. It appears dairy was the lone offender, as is very common.
My daughter is now 6 months old. I thought perhaps her digestive system may have matured enough that I could eat dairy again. I tried reintroducing it the same way I did the first time; I ate a little every day for a few days. And just like before, on that third day she was a gassy mess. So she’s not ready for it yet. I’ll keep trying every couple of months until her gut cooperates. In the meantime, I’ll still be eating well and enjoying my happy daughter!
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