(It probably isn’t something you ate.)

Beware. This is a topic that makes me particularly fussy, so the first half is written with a little sarcasm.

Fussy baby? According to anyone with an opinion (you know what opinions are like… everyone has one),  it is probably something you ate.

So, in your free time, why don’t you go ahead and change up your entire diet. Research how to remove gluten and dairy and soy. Don’t use any spices and in general, don’t eat any vegetable. Especially the really healthy ones with lots of fiber. They make you fart, so they will make the baby fart. Don’t eat onions. Don’t eat beans. Don’t eat acidic foods or drink carbonated drinks. No coffee, no wine, no chocolate.

Yum. What a balanced diet for a human who just happens to be sustaining another human’s life. What a stress-free way to live for a human being who gets three interrupted stretches of two hours of sleep per night, hasn’t showered in three days, and constantly smells like sour milk and BO (yes, the extra stinky BO thing is actually a thing). This incredibly tired hormonally unstable person doesn’t need food for comfort and has plenty of time to plan out three healthy meals and three healthy snacks per day. She often has time to prepare her meals and eat with both hands. She also has ample time to browse the shelves of Whole Foods and frequent gluten-free blogs.

Okay, I am done being snarky.

It is not okay to do this to lactating parents. There is no evidence that a lactating parent needs to change their diet at all while breastfeeding. Pediatricians in particular are a really big fan of telling parents who complain of a fussy baby to “just take dairy of your diet.” That’s it! No dietary counseling, no explanation of why. No information about how dairy is hidden in a lot of foods (including non-dairy creamer. Go figure). This leaves the parent to the mercy of the internet. If you have landed on this blog in your search, I hope to bring some balance into your decision making process.

Let me break this down for you because you deserve to know why you may choose to remove something from your diet… or not.

Every food takes a different amount of time to get into your breastmilk. Think about it. When you eat something, it has to be digested in your stomach, then the nutrients, proteins, and fats are absorbed by your intestines into your blood stream. The blood needs to circulate all around your body before it is sent to your breasts to be used to create breastmilk. Your breastmilk will pull what it needs from your blood.

Needless to say, if you had broccoli for lunch, your baby probably isn’t eating that same broccoli for dinner. So, guess all day long if it was something that you ate, but all it will be is guessing.

Now, I am not undermining a parent’s intuition. Some lactating parents swear up and down that every time they eat ____ their baby is a terror for three days. That’s cool. Then don’t eat ____.  But don’t let this process get away from you, or before long you will be eating turkey and rice and saying, “Well I’ll be damned. Turns out it wasn’t something I was eating; babies just fuss!”

But, there are some things worth knowing about your diet and breastfeeding:

Everything’s fair game!

All those no-nos from pregnancy are back in. Lunch meats, unpasteurized cheeses, sushi(!) are all fine to eat. Now, you can certainly still get food poisoning from those foods, but it will just suck for you. Your baby will be just fine. Food borne illnesses don’t cross to your breastmilk.

Drink caffeine in moderation, like in pregnancy.

Oh man. If you ever needed a IV drip of caffeine it is when you have a new baby. But resist the urge to get “The Big One” from Dunkin’. Too much caffeine can bug your baby and make him more irritable. So, stick to six to eight ounces a day and not too much more. And, for God’s sake, each chocolate if you want chocolate. Just, you know, don’t eat the whole 80% dark cacao sea salt bar in one sitting.

Go ahead and drink. But, if you wouldn’t drive, don’t give nurse.

Alcohol moves in and out of your breastmilk just like it moves in and out of your bloodstream. When you have a little too much alcohol, you feel tipsy and there is alcohol in your blood and in your breastmilk. As your liver metabolizes the alcohol, it pulls the alcohol back out of your bloodstream and also out of your breastmilk. Cool, huh? So, you don’t need to pump and dump your milk to get rid of the alcohol, you just need to sober up.

But, if it is time to nurse or pump and you are drunk, don’t nurse and don’t use that pumped milk! Let’s say you are out with your girlfriends at a bachelorette party. It has been four hours and although your boobs are extra big and getting you extra drinks, you decide it is time to pump. You slip into the bathroom (the only acceptable time to pump in the bathroom, by the way) and  you pump, which you find hilarious because, well, you are drunk. That milk needs to be dumped right down the drain. Props to you for bringing your pump, but that milk smells suspiciously like Grey Goose, so let it fly.

Read more about when to consider not feeding your expressed milk to your baby.

Cow’s milk:

An adult is supposed to eat two to three servings of dairy per day. Let’s do a quick recap on what a serving of dairy is:

  • half a cup of ice cream
  • 1.5 oz of cheese (1.5 cheese sticks)
  • eight ounces of milk (a cup)

Now, pretty much every American who eats dairy eats more than two to three servings per day. And every breastfeeding mother who eats dairy eats waaay more than two to three servings per day because it is really easy to eat dairy with one hand.

Sometimes, newborn babies eight weeks and younger can show excess gas and discomfort when their milk contains too much cow’s milk protein. That’s because a cow’s milk protein is way bigger than a breastmilk protein, so it is a little harder for them to digest. It isn’t harmful; you just may find yourself listening to your little grunter all night long.

So, if you want to do something to help your gassy baby, sub in almond milk in your morning cereal and limit the rest of your major dairy to two to three servings. Don’t go crazy and start reading labels for whey and casein. As for ice cream, I personally would save all three of my servings for the nightly ration, but there are supposedly some other awesome ice cream options that are dairy free.

Dairy Allergy:

In my opinion, and in the opinion of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, we only talk food elimination if there is blood in baby’s stool. Even then, it is reasonable to start by reducing dairy first, then eliminating major dairy, then removing hidden dairy. It takes two weeks for dairy to be completely eliminated from your body, so be prepared to wait that long to see improvement.

There are some pretty convincing reasons to go dairy and soy free. One of my breastfeeding mamas did it when her daughter was just a few months old and has remained that way to this day. I will let you learn more about this from her. I applaud her and any one of you who takes on this challenge. I’m not sure I could have done it.

Okay, one last little rant:

I think the diet and breastfeeding commentary is just another way to blame the breastfeeding mother for anything and everything wrong with the baby. I mean, babies all over the world breastfeed from mothers who eat their native diets. Sometimes it is spicy, often it is heavily plant-based, and rarely is it prepackaged at Whole Foods and custom made to taste like cheese but not really be cheese.

You are doing it right. Your baby is just fine. Most of the time, it isn’t anything you did wrong. Most of the time, babies are just fussy.

Clarification 8/6/15:

Due to a recent backlash from mothers of infants with severe food allergies, I wish to clarify some of my thoughts in this blog post. I stand firm in my opinion that the majority of breastfeeding mothers will not need to consider elimination diets in order to ease their babies’ fussiness. Most babies will not have severe food allergies or sensitivities that will require moms to follow very strict diets. To suggest elimination diets to emotional, tired new moms as a first recourse when baby is fussy is uncalled for and threatens the premature end to an otherwise perfectly fine breastfeeding relationship.
Babies who have food allergies will show other symptoms (with or without blood in the stools) that will likely be alarming. In this blog, I am talking about babies who are fussy, not babies who scream inconsolably or who have any number of other symptoms that suggest food intolerances. If your baby is simply fussy, her fussiness is probably not caused by something you ate. If you are worried by other symptoms, however, and your mama instincts are telling you to explore the possibility that your child has food allergies, by all means, look into it.