Breastfeeding and Allergies

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Generally speaking there are no across the board dietary restrictions while breastfeeding.  Some herbs in large amounts might impact supply, a specific food might upset baby but for the most part nursing moms can eat as they always have. That said, some of us are blessed with special little ones, little ones that are sensitive or very allergic to certain foods. Some might assume their baby is allergic to breast milk itself, but aside from a very rare condition galactosemia babies are not allergic to human milk. The reaction is not to moms milk in general but something she is consuming.

When a mom is breastfeeding and baby is fussy sometimes people jump to the conclusion that it must be something moms eaten, or mom has a supply issue or her milk is “bad”. That is rarely the case. Babies cannot talk and thus they cry and fuss for many reasons as they attempt to communicate hunger, sleepiness and even boredom. I want to assure most mothers that if your baby is fussy it is most likely normal behavior and not caused by your diet. This information is for moms who have babies with allergy/sensitivity symptoms.  Some symptoms include:

*excessive crying,  as if in pain
*persistent diaper rash
* rashy skin or eczema
*symptoms of reflux
*mucousy or bloody stools
*hay fever symptoms

For more information read this and speak with your healthcare provider: http://kellymom.com/health/baby-health/food-sensitivity/

The above article goes into detail about allergies and how to identify them. As a mom who has nursed multiple babies with allergies I want to offer practical tips on managing diet restrictions and breastfeeding for moms that know their baby has allergies/sensitivities.  Some babies are only sensitive as newborns, others remain sensitive as long as you breastfeed and beyond, and many outgrow the sensitivity some where in between. Dairy is one of the most common culprits for allergies/sensitivities in nurslings but wheat, soy, egg, peanuts and tree nuts are also common culprits. Some babies react to less common foods, like certain fruits or vegetables.

Once you know what your baby is allergic/sensitive to you can come up with a plan to make sure you are eating well and baby is feeling better. Between three of my children I have avoided dairy, soy, eggs, peanuts,  tree nuts and wheat in different cocombinations for each (again, please remember this is not common and it is not recommended moms avoid possible allergens just in case). Here are ways to survive allergy nursing:

1. Research. Read labels online, go to the store baby free or with someone to help so you can spend time reading labels and chat with others who have similar diet restrictions. Read menus online before going out to eat. There are even apps to help you, such as Gipsee

2. Choose whole foods. Foods closest to their natural state are less likely to have hidden ingredients and are generally healthier than faux dairy products, prepackaged treats etc. A homemade burger is unlikely to have soy where a prepackaged or restaurant burger might. Real meat, beans, vegetables,  fruits and whole grains are best. The less processed, the less ingredients or chance for cross contamination.

3. Get in the kitchen and experiment. It can take time to find foods and recipes when your diet changes drastically but when dealing with allergies homemade foods often become a necessity.  You can tweak and substitute ingredients as needed.

4. Know your substitute convenience foods. Yes, whole foods are best but sometimes we need convenience foods, especially as busy moms. Products like SO Delicious, Glutino, Coconut Bliss, Enjoy Life and others can make allergy eating a little easier. WholeFoods stores, Wegmens and other grocery stores with a “natural” section often carry a variety of allergen friendly foods. Fortunately I live in the Philadelphia metro so I have access to many stores. If you are in a smaller area Amazon and direct from the company sales are great ways to get non perishable allergen friendly foods.

5. Learn substitutes to use in regular recipes. You do not always need special recipes to make allergen friendly foods. Aside from gluten free baking most recipes can easily be adjusted.
* oat, almond, coconut and other “milks” can be subbed for cream or milk in recipes. I recommend using unsweetened varieties.
* 1/4 cup of applesauce can be an egg substitute in baking. In meatloafs, burgers, casseroles etc you can often leave out the egg and it tastes fine it just will not be as binded
*Olive oil, Earth Balance (regular and soy free), canola and coconut oils can be butter substitutes for cooking and baking

6. Plan ahead. Depending in your restrictions you might not be able to easily grab food while you are out or a guest at someone’s home. Pack food or substitutes to take while you are out. Meeting a friend for coffee while you are dairy and soy free can be a bummer if you do not enjoy black coffee. If you bring a small container of your coconut or almond milk creamers you can order a black coffee and add your own creamer. If your host plans to have pasta for dinner and you are gluten free ask her to set aside a little sauce and you can bring gluten free pasta.

7. Join online forums and support groups. Research is great but sometimes you just need practical information. Forums and support groups can offer tips, be a place to vent frustrations and help you problem solve.

8. Food blogs. Following different food blogs can help you find new recipes and give you more practical advice about life with dietary restrictions. If you are dairy or egg free following vegan bloggers can help and recipes can be adjusted if you want to use animal products. A few great blogs: Detoxinista,  Go Dairy Free, and Gluten Free Girl . Google your restrictions and you are bound to find many helpful food blogs, guides and information.

9. Keep an eye on your nutrition. When eliminating foods it can be hard to make sure you are getting adequate nutrition. A glass of cow’s milk has 8g of protein while many alternate “milks” have just 1-4 and also lack healthy fats. While cow’s milk is not a necessary component of the human diet, many Americans are used to using it for a source of calcium, healthy fats and proteins. Using dietary apps, like My Fitness Pal, can help you keep track of nutrition as you adjust and you have concerns about your nutrition. If you have many restrictions meeting with a nutritionist might be very helpful. The good news, baby almost always gets exactly the right amount of nutrition from your milk regardless of your diet. It is important for you to have a healthy diet though to ensure your health and to help you feel your best.

10. Be patient and self forgiving.  Adjusting your diet can be hard, but even more so when you are still adjusting to life with a new addition. It might take time to develop a new eating routine and you might even get frustrated and that is okay. You are likely to have the occasional slip up and find you now have a fussy and uncomfortable baby to handle,  that is okay too. Babies are often resilient and the temporary discomfort will quickly pass without long term consequences so do not beat yourself up over it.

It can feel overwhelming when you first eliminate foods but once you learn what you can eat and what you enjoy it becomes second nature.  You might also find yourself feeling healthier than ever before because many unhealthy convenience foods are not allergy friendly. I am very thankful for my first allergy baby that really revamped our family’s diet. You might even question if breastfeeding is even worth all this diet trouble (especially at parties with pizza and cake!) and that’s a normal frustration. For our family it was definitely worth it and I believe it likely helped them in eventually out growing most of their allergies and know it helped their overall health. Every family is different,  every mother/baby pair is different but I do hope this information helps more families to know it is possible and often very beneficial to continue breastfeeding a baby with allergies/sensitivities.