(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 (a lot ) of 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.

In short, when you are breastfeeding, according to anyone who has an asshole–I mean opinion–your diet may consistent of:

Turkey, boiled without any seasoning

Brown rice

Pears

Yum. What a balanced diet for a woman who just happens to be sustaining another human’s life. What a stress-free way to live for a woman 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 hormonally unstable woman 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 women. There is no evidence that a breastfeeding mother needs to change her diet at all while breastfeeding. Pediatricians in particular are a really big fan of telling mothers 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).

Let me break this down for you because you deserve to know why you should 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 mother’s intuition. Some moms 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. You won’t be the first mama to nurse on the bathroom floor while throwing up into the toilet (I did it).

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.

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

You don’t need to buy those fancy breastmilk tester strips to find out if your milk has alcohol in it; just use your brain. 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.

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 (HA! Did you know a pint of Ben & Jerry’s has four servings? I don’t even want to know what four times 28 grams of fat is.)
  • 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 get a little farty when their mamas eat a ton of dairy. 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 man, sub in almond milk in your morning cereal, indulge in goat’s milk instead of regular cheese, 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 dairy 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.

14 Comments

  • […] reflux and food intolerance are different. I DO NOT recommend taking a whole bunch of foods out of your diet and also treating […]

  • […] much.  I guarantee your top 3 Dr. Google diagnoses will be reflux, foremilk/hindmilk imbalance and dairy intolerance. Please read my blogs before you commit to any of these…then consider the fourth possibility: […]

  • Kazine Phoenix says:

    Someone needs to stop writing articles about something they have no experience with.

    • KatieIBCLC says:

      Hi Kazine. Thanks for reading my article. Would you like to expand upon your comment so that I can better respond?

      If you would prefer to write badgering comments such as this one, I will be happy to block you from productive conversation.

  • Catherine Payne says:

    I strongly disagree with this. My son’s dairy allergy was so bad it caused him to cough up blood (his reflux had caused his oesophagus to bleed) all from dairy via breast milk. Not excluding allergens can be harmful. I’ve BF my two kids dairy free for nearly three years – I’m not a martyr I just love my kids more than chocolate. I have years to enjoy dairy but would rather not eat it now and risk lifelong harm to their guts – colitis etc. Very dangerous article.

    • KatieIBCLC says:

      Hi Catherine. Thanks for your post. In this article, I am by no means suggesting women NOT exclude diary from their diets or other potential allergens for that matter. As I state, “In my opinion, and in the opinion of the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, we only talk dairy 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. ”

      So, are you feeling like in order to be more clear in this article, I need to also mention that if you baby is spitting up blood, then consider removing dairy?

      The purpose of this article is not jump to diet as the culprit first, UNLESS, the baby is showing serious medical signs of allergies. Of course it made sense for you to remove dairy from your diet and I applaud you!

      • Catherine Payne says:

        Thanks for responding Katie. To be honest I think it’s not just a case of advising people to exclude dairy on the presence of bloody reflux either. My son had lots of mild symptoms (colic, reflux, eczema) which doctors encouraged me to ignore as just normal for a newborn. If I had excluded dairy at these earliest symptoms then later complications – lasting gut damage, failure to thrive and oral aversion not to mention weeks of screaming and pain could have been avoided. We all claim to be willing to do anything for our kids so what’s the harm in eating totally dairy free for a fortnight – much better to put yourself out a little than keep your child in pain. As for the argument that you should keep allergens in the diet to build tolerance – the latest thinking with gut mediated allergies (ie delayed or non IgE allergies) is that only total removal will allow the gut to be healed. Then careful reintroduction via the milk ladder can be trialled ideally under dietetic supervision. Any allergy can become anaphylactic at any age so its really important to treat the subject with care. The world is eye rolly enough about allergies as it is – articles like this don’t help keep tiny babies (who have no say in what they eat) safe. But thanks for responding so kindly.

  • Becky Akid says:

    I also disagree with the advice about only excluding dairy if there is blood in their vomit. My son vomitted 50 times a day(no blood) and pooped around 15 times a day and his weight dropped from the 75th centile to the 2nd in 7 weeks. This only improved when I began to exclude dairy from my diet (and later soya,dairy and nuts)I slipped up once when he was about 7 months old and ate something with butter in by mistake and he was ill for days. At this time despite him being admitted to hospital only one Dr suggested dairy could be an issue. I’m in the UK so I’m not sure if its different here but issues with what the mother is eating is so often overlooked and children left to suffer.

  • Sarah P says:

    Just wanted to say that, whilst I agree with the general principle of most women not needing to adjust their diets to breastfeed a baby, I do think you are misleading people by suggesting only blood in stools necessitates removing dairy from mums diet.

    My twins are non ige allergic to dairy, soy, egg and more sadly, and are hypersensitive to the tiniest amounts in my diet… And yet blood in stools wasn’t a problem until very late on, and was thankfully minimal and rare. They were, however, in so much pain from damaged intestines and gas that they cried most of their waking hours and rarely slept, had allergy provoked reflux and vomiting, had 10-12 mucous filled and explosive nappies per day, and dropped weight or failed to gain for months until they were diagnosed, as they literally couldn’t absorb nutrients through the damage… All this went on for months without any blood in their nappies. I would have been so glad for someone to suggest I cut out dairy sooner, and so wish I could have saved them all this pain.

    If your article puts even one mum with an allergic baby off of trying to cut out dairy, then that’s one more baby living in daily pain, and it’s not worth it. Better that mum gives it 6 weeks, 3 for the dairy to leave her system, 3 for it to leave babies, and notice no difference surely? Giving up dairy as a trial isn’t a huge sacrifice to stop a baby from suffering in the end, is it?

  • […] address poop a bit in next week’s blog, but know this: All of the above colors are normal except those with an asterisk. If you baby’s […]

  • lindsay wisniewski says:

    Thank you for this!! Absolutely hilarious & really gives me some clarity. My little guy, who will be 8 weeks Tuesday, has been having some issues with silent reflux, so I took dairy out of my diet (not a big deal cause I don’t eat it much anyway) BUT I was advised to ban caffeine & as you said when you’re running on 2-3 hours of sleep sometimes you Need your coffee! I feel
    So much better after reading this, thank you!! Question though, how come it takes dairy so long to exit your system opposed to any other food or drink?
    Again, LOVE your blog! Will be following from now on. ?

  • […] the past: I must have eaten something wrong. Oh no. I am going to have to stop eating ice cream. I love ice cream! I don’t want to stop eating […]

  • Christina Koenig says:

    I absolutely love this. I am a first time mom to a 6 month old and obviously new to the wonderful world of breastfeeding. My son was only slightly fussy but had severe eczema on various parts of his body. So his (FORMER!) pediatrician advised that i cut dairy out and a couple of weeks later advised eliminating wheat, soy, eggs and nuts along with the dairy…(yes, all because of ‘slight’ fuss and eczema. i wish i knew more at that time. when i think about it, i just want to cry). I was also conveniently returning to work after ML so of course noticed a big dip in my supply! Since my LO was still experiencing discomfort after about a month (and his stool had some mucus), i brought a sample in to get checked out. They found blood, PH levels and white blood cell count off so the dr told me to pump and freeze for 2 weeks while we tested out a dairy free formula (Alimentum). i did as told and we did another test on stool after the 2 weeks and found no blood. Because of the drastic and sudden change to my diet my supply suffered a great deal. I’m lucky to give my son 4 oz of BM a day now. he was entirely breast fed from birth to 4 mos. I did used to suffer from a super fast let down – he would choke on it sometimes and get sprayed if he popped off. I now wonder if that could have caused blood in his stool, by any chance? Anyway, thank you for such a wonderful blog. i’ve only just discovered you and this is the second one i’ve read (“the good milk: foremilk/hindmilk” being the first) and look forward to reading more.

    thank you!

    • Jalina King says:

      Hi, Christina! I am a first-time mommy to a 4-month-old EBF baby boy. My son’s pediatrician told me from the beginning that if his stool was green with mucus, I should try cutting down on dairy… When he was about 2 months old, he suddenly had difficulty with breastfeeding. He was gassy, fussy at the breast, choked and pulled off often, spit up A LOT, etc. He also had an increased number of green, mucousy stools. I wondered of it was something I was eating. After some searching on the internet (isn’t it a shame it has to come to that?), I learned about forceful letdown and oversupply. I learned the “finish the first breast first” method. This is what the nurses in the maternity ward told me to do in the first place, which I did with no problems. Then my son’s pediatrician told me to feed on one side for 15 minutes, burp him, then feed on the other side for 15 minutes. I firmly believe this increased (if not caused) my oversupply, leading to all my son’s issues at about 2 months! Thankfully (after my OWN research), we are back on track and breastfeeding well. I am so sorry to hear that you had the opposite outcome. I know I would have been devastated.