Let me begin this post by saying that many of my colleagues are hesitant to suggest that a mother consider eliminating one or more foods from her diet; they are worried that “one more thing” will make a mother not want to breastfeed her baby. My perspective is a little different, because when my babies were suffering, I knew:
- If something is wrong with my baby, breastfeeding is definitely NOT to blame, because it is the biological norm.
- Galactosemia is an incredibly rare condition, so the likelihood that my baby is “allergic to my milk” is extremely small.
First, keep in mind that green poop, a red ring around your baby’s anus, bloody poop, diaper rash, gas, skin rashes, and extreme fussiness may be common symptoms, but they are NOT normal!! (More about this here) Many pediatricians dismiss these occurrences as “part of being a baby” (mine did), but you may be able to alleviate these symptoms by improving your own health.
Please note my last statement: you can help your baby by helping yourself. Many mothers consider elimination diets “sacrificial,” but in reality, they can be helpful and healing to both mother and baby if food allergies and sensitivities are what’s plaguing your little one.
Some important points to consider, and to discuss with your healthcare providers:
- Remember that this change in your diet doesn’t have to be forever. Many babies can tolerate small amounts of offending proteins that pass to them in breastmilk after the 6- or 9-month mark. Take one day at a time, and know, without question, that if your baby is struggling with breastmilk, he will do far worse on regular baby milk preparations, which are made from the allergens you’re trying to avoid! The available preparations for highly sensitive babies are very expensive and don’t offer the other protections from allergy and disease your milk provides.
- It can take awhile for all allergenic proteins to leave your body and your baby’s body. Be patient. Allow at least a week of total elimination before deciding the particular food wasn’t your problem. Even a tiny bit of the offender can cause symptoms.
- Learn how to read labels. The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network offers an excellent guide for consumers about how to translate ingredient names so you know what you’re actually eating (click link to see guide).
- Unsure your diet is causing the trouble? Keep a log of what you’re eating and another log of how your baby behaves. Watch sleeping, fussy periods, diaper content and frequency, rashes, and anything else that raises a question for you. It may be that something you ate on Monday affects your baby on Thursday – so keep that in mind as you look for correlations.
- Some practitioners recommend eliminating one allergen at a time, while others suggest you take a total elimination approach from the beginning. I tell mothers to do what they feel like they can do, and if improvement doesn’t occur, to go a little further. For many of the mothers I have worked with, eliminating dairy and soy brought significant, but not complete relief; eliminating eggs and gluten brought further improvement, and sometimes even allowed mothers to reintroduce dairy in small amounts again as long as they kept the gluten out of their diets … so it might not have to be “all or nothing.” This link to the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine’s clinical protocol, Allergic Proctocolitis in the Exclusively Breastfed Infant, asserts that cow’s milk allergy is the most common, and that many babies improve significantly after their mothers eliminate all dairy.
- Look at the world according to what you CAN eat, rather than what you can’t! This approach has been vital for me – the day before I gave up gluten, I felt like I was marching to the gallows … but opening my eyes to all the wonderful food possibilities out there has helped me so much (plus I feel better).
- Consider whether “substitutes” for various allergens are really necessary long-term. Keep in mind that many babies are as intolerant of soy as of dairy, so soy “milks” or other products may not be good choices (I’ve seen lots of mothers switch from dairy to soy, see no improvement, and mistakenly assume allergens were not the problem).
- Likewise, gluten-free replacements for breads, baked goods, and pasta can be very expensive and may be disappointing in flavor and texture – while they might be valuable short-term to help you cross the bridge to a changed diet, consider whether they have a place in your diet long-term.
- The fewer packaged, processed, “convenience foods” in your diet, the easier it will be to eliminate allergens. Whole, real foods (think the perimeter of your grocery store) will be nutrient-dense and satisfying.
- Have your baby evaluated by an IBCLC or pediatrician “in the know” for tongue-tie (ankyloglossia). Not only does this condition cause some symptoms that look like food sensitivities (spitting up, reflux-like discomfort), it seems to appear more frequently in babies with food sensitivities and mothers with leaky gut. See this link for an outstanding resource you can take with you to the pediatrician.
- If you haven’t already, talk to your pediatrician and do some research on probiotics, for both you and your baby. These beneficial bacteria are absolutely vital for keeping your gut healthy and crowding out “bad bugs.” Many pediatricians are recommending powdered probiotics for babies, administered as a small amount on mother’s nipple before baby latches on to feed. Here’s one link to start with: The claim: Probiotics can soothe a colicky baby.
I am by no means a nutritionist or dietitian – I speak only as a mother who has suffered with food intolerances all my life and eliminated allergens while breastfeeding my own three babies. Here are my suggestions and resources for foods and meals that can be delicious, satisfying ingredients to a healthy, healing lifestyle for you and your family:
- Guacamole with garlic, lime juice, and chopped cilantro
- Mashed avocado with black beans, lime juice, chopped cilantro, served warm over wild rice or cold over salad greens
- Avocado slices with unrefined salt, or cubes on a salad
- Not an avocado person? Try making chocolate pudding with it!
- Bananas lend a silky, satisfying texture to fruit smoothies. Try freezing them first!
- Gluten-free baked goods with bananas tend to retain a moist, dense character better than options not banana-based.
- Banana “ice cream,” anyone?
I have seriously never met a roasted vegetable I didn’t like. Even rutabagas and turnips get sweet and delicious after they’ve been roasted. To roast a vegetable, peel and chop into uniform pieces, arrange in a single layer in a roasting pan, drizzle with a little extra-virgin olive oil and coarse sea salt, and roast in a 425-degree oven for 20-minute intervals, turning the veggies each time the timer beeps. Most veggies are done in 40 minutes, but others like to be roasted a little bit longer. Be prepared to be amazed at how delicious this makes even the least popular of vegetables! My family’s favorites include:
- Beets (cubed)
- Brussels sprouts (trim stem end and cut each sprout in half)
- Green beans
- Sweet potatoes
Pickled veggies are also a favorite – not just cucumbers, but asparagus, green beans, or giardiniera mix are great snacks or side items for lunch.
Blended soups from summer vegetables are easy to make and can be served hot or cold. Gazpacho, zucchini soup, or a puree made from potatoes and vegetables are easy and delicious.
- Fresh pineapple is an indulgence – even better if it’s sliced and broiled briefly, until slightly caramelized. Add a touch of honey if it’s not sweet enough for you!
- Smoothies are incredibly easy – choose frozen, organic, pre-sliced fruits (NO SYRUP or SWEETENERS), blend with canned coconut milk and a little water for a sweet, satisfying treat. If you want to get a little crazy, pour the smoothie into ice pop molds and freeze until solid!
- Strawberries dipped in dark chocolate? Yes, please!
- Make a quick and easy fruit salad with canned (in JUICE, not syrup) mandarin orange sections and pineapple tidbits. Add sliced banana and chopped mint or basil for a special touch.
- Unsulphured dried fruits (apricots, prunes, raisins) are portable and make a delicious, satisfying snack with a handful of almonds or cashews. (If you’re watching calories, be aware that these are very calorie-dense.)
- Add chopped apples or pears to chicken or cabbage salad – raisins are terrific, too.
- Have you ever poached summer stone fruits, like plums and nectarines? Or made balsamic macerated strawberries? (I’m not recommending non-dairy whipped topping as a healthy food, but if you don’t mind the occasional dose of chemicals, a little dollop is pretty yummy on these berries and shouldn’t cause a reaction in your baby.)
- Gelatin desserts, with fruit or juice, aren’t difficult to make if you don’t want to eat commercially-prepared Jell-O.
- If you eliminate gluten from your diet, you may find it was in nearly everything if you ate a lot of packaged or processed foods. Be careful, because many gluten-free substitutes contain corn and oats, which also cause trouble for some highly sensitive individuals. Even gluten-free oats might be difficult for some people to digest. Eliminating these in the beginning, then carefully adding them back in as you figure out what affects your baby is a good strategy.
- Quinoa is a complete-protein grain (it’s technically a seed) and can substitute for wheat in tabouli … it’s also delicious on its own or as a base for salads or stuffed peppers.
- Rice is in many gluten-free items, as well. I prefer wild rice or wild rice blends. Be sure to choose brown rice over white if rice becomes a staple in your diet. Coconut rice and beans can be made in a crock pot – exotic and delicious (I’ve done this recipe and used brown basmati instead of white – comes out fine).
- I was not a fan of leafy green vegetables until I learned there’s more out there than lettuce and spinach!
- Peppery greens like arugula and mustard greens are great accents to a green salad.
- Napa cabbage is mild and a delicious base for a salad or slaw.
- Round heads of cabbage are easily chopped and sautéed with coconut oil and seasonings of your choice for a quick, healthy lunch. Add ready-to-eat sausage or some mushrooms for a little more oomph.
- Kale chips! Easy, delicious, and kid-friendly!
- Add any kind of leafy green vegetable to soups during the last few minutes of cooking. Favorites in our family are bok choy (my kids call it “chazel,” so it makes “chazel soup!”), mustard greens, and kale, chopped up small enough to just fit right in. Lentil soup, chicken soup, or soups with garlic-based broths all welcome leafy greens!
- Whenever possible, choose locally-pastured meats and poultry. These will have the best nutrition profile and flavor. Too expensive? Eat less of them – back down to once or twice a week and eat vegetarian the other days.
- Be sure your store-bought chickens, turkeys, or hams are not injected with gluten-containing broths or fillers. No ingredient list? Call the 1-800 number on the label before you buy.
- Avoid pre-seasoned fish – these spice mixes often contain hidden allergens.
- A roast beef, pork, or chicken/turkey, roasted potatoes with herbs or roasted root vegetables, and a green vegetable or salad makes a satisfying meal that requires no substitutes – everyone in the family can eat it and it’s all in its original state!
- Leftovers can be chopped and made into salads or put in soups or rice dishes.
- Make a terrific gluten-free gravy by substituting rice flour, potato starch, or corn starch (if you’re not avoiding corn) for flour.
- Miss your daily sandwich? Choose gluten-free deli meats and make roll-ups – ham around a pineapple spear is a favorite, or turkey with hummus spread before rolling, or salami wrapped around a baby dill pickle or pickled asparagus spear — delicious!
- Look for baked goods recipes that use almond flour or almond meal. Every one I’ve had has been a winner.
- Avoid flavored nuts – many have hidden allergens.
- Look online for things you can do with cashews! We’ve enjoyed a “cheesecake” made from soaked cashews; cashew “cream” is another popular option.
- Struggling for a breakfast option? This granola is amazing … but extremely calorie-dense, so enjoy in moderation!
- Roasted potatoes are delicious. Enough said. Sea salt and parsley put them over the edge!
- Mashed potatoes are easily made dairy-free … add a little chicken broth for some “body” if you want. Roasted garlic is another decadent addition.
- Potato salads can be vinegar-based or mayonnaise-based – if you’re avoiding eggs, the vegan mayonnaises can be suitable stand-ins.
- If you’re not planning to freeze leftovers, cubed potatoes make an excellent addition to vegetable or other soups in place of pasta. Potatoes don’t freeze well, so if you’re planning to freeze some of the soup, separate that portion out before you add your potatoes.
- If you love breakfast hash browns but aren’t eating butter, try cooking your shredded potatoes in a little coconut oil – the texture will be the same and don’t worry, the coconut oil doesn’t make your food taste like a piña colada!
Sauces, dressings, extras
- Vegan mayonnaise makes a suitable base for salad and slaw dressings – I like cider vinegar (rice vinegar if I’m looking for a sweeter flavor), celery salt, and a little orange or pineapple juice (I save what comes in the fruit cans!) whisked together with Veganaise is delicious over shredded napa cabbage or broccoli stems!
- Basic marinara sauce, if you’re not avoiding tomatoes, is always a favorite.
- Homemade ketchup is easy and quite delicious – make up a batch and it keeps for weeks in the fridge. Mix with veganaise and pickle relish for an allergen-free thousand island dressing!
- There are many widely-available nut butters today – try one if you’re avoiding peanuts.
- Be sure if you’re using prepared broths or boullion, they are gluten-free and dairy-free … I’ve been very surprised by the ingredients in some of those items.
- Vegetables, in their natural state (no flavor packs or sauces)
- Fresh fruits
- Unprocessed, unpackaged foods
- If you have to go with “convenience foods,” read the labels – organic is usually best but know what you’re getting!
- Potatoes, rice (I prefer wild rice)
- Coconut milk (I like canned but the refrigerated varieties that come in cartons in the alternative milk section of the grocery store are also good)
These are the websites I’ve visited most frequently for ideas when I get into a food rut. I’m amazed by how much is available for those of us who choose to avoid allergens.
http://glutenfreeville.com/featured/100ideas (Gluten-free lunchbox ideas)
This website is one that recently crossed into my consciousness and it’s AMAZING! She adapts recipes to fit any elimination diet, so you don’t have to!
There are also lots of cookbooks available – the sky is the limit and once you’ve gotten into the habit of eating without allergens, it gets easier; but nothing will compare to the relief that comes from seeing your baby comfortable again – and you may be surprised by how fabulous you feel, too. It’s a delicious world!