My own little guy was just two weeks old when we started to suspect something was wrong. He nursed well but within a few days had started to arch his back, stand bolt upright (at four days old) and scream like we'd never heard before. We had adopted him at birth (yes, you can breastfeed in adoption) from a family that, as it turned out, has a substantial history of food allergies and other reactions. Unable to call on my own or my husband's medical histories, let alone our gut instincts about our own bodies' reactions to food, suffice it to say we were starting from scratch on figuring out what might be the problem.
What ensued can really be best described as a saga. A drama. A debacle. And then, once his pediatrician told me to strip the top 8 allergens out of my diet, a light illuminating the whole darn tunnel. Here are some of the survival tips I learned along the way that got us through.
1. Journal, journal, journal.
Any time you start an elimination diet, it's a good idea to keep a food journal where you can record everything you eat and any changes - no matter how small - that you experience in your body or your mood afterwards. When the elimination diet is prescribed not for your own health but for that of your little baby, it becomes exponentially more complicated. Different foods can take meaningfully different periods of time to be digested and pass through into the breast milk - and then they can again take varying periods of time to be digested and thoroughly absorbed by your baby - who will then take different periods of time for any related reactions to develop. Good luck sorting all that out!
Keeping a food journal in which you record your baby's every mood, rash and bowel movement (among other things!) in tandem with the foods that you yourself are eating is really your best shot at it. It's important to try to be unbiased as you do this - resist the temptation to attribute a given reaction to a particular food as it's often only by looking at trends and connections across a long period of time that you can narrow down the true triggers. And make sure you loop in a detail-oriented doctor who's well-versed in not just pediatrics but gastroenterology and immunology here, as discovering the common threads among the various inputs is as much an art as it is a science -- and a relatively ill-understood field of science at that.
2. Stick to your guns.
Bringing our little munchkin home to New York at last, I was excited to introduce him to the pediatrician who had quarter-backed myriad health mysteries for our older child for five years already. Pretty quickly, it became clear that although she had supported my decision to breastfeed him ("breast is best!"), she was quick to throw that milk under the bus as it were when he stopped growing well. "Switch to formula," she said, "there must be something wrong with your milk."
Suffice it to say, there was nothing wrong with my milk. I'd done my research -- when an adoptive mom 'induces lactation' to breastfeed her child, there is no difference in the chemical composition of her milk (other than the fact that she doesn't have the nutrient-rich colleostrum that a birth mother builds up over her pregnancy). As it turned out, my baby was suffering what the GI at a nearby children's hospital would later explain were the classic symptoms of food intolerance. He (and just about every other source I could find) was adament that for a child with food allergies or intolerances, breastfeeding is the best thing you can do - but that I would need to restrict my own diet to exclude common allergens.
As in, cut out dairy, gluten, egg, soy, nuts, fish, chocolate and corn (that was the list he gave me based on what I knew of my chid's family history) overnight. And then wait patiently for several weeks while all those itty bitty food molecules left my milk stream (he told me that it takes 2 weeks for dairy alone) and hope that it helps. Rough!
And yet, right as rain, when I brought my diet down, my little guy stopped screaming, stopped arching his back, started pooping (something we hadn't seen for a while by then) and gradually settled into being the adorable (albeit highly food-restricted) little snuggle bug he is today.
Is sticking to the breastfeeding always the right thing to do? Absolutely not - I am sure that there are a myriad circumstances under which continuing to breastfeed is not the right thing to do, and that's why you really should work with your doctor to understand what is best for your baby. In fact, before I decided to continue breastfeeding, I checked with several other pediatric specialists with credentials I trusted before taking what I considered to be the drastic measure of not following my pediatrician's advice (and, alas, changing pediatricians). In my case that turned out to be the right gamble but you should absolutely seek medical advice and should not make any decisions based on my story!
I am including my own experience here simply as a cautionary tale that you should stick to your guns and work the issue all the way through. So take a deep breath and find your way to some specialists who really know their way around this stuff and are well-versed in the apparently fairly new world of how food in breastmilk can affect a little one.
3. Find support.
Having a newborn is overwhelming and a lot of 'work' in the best of circumstances. Throw in any type of child illness, allergies or unknown deviations from the expected norms and it's a whole other thing. And to throw on top of all of that changing your own diet just when you need your comfort foods the most -- that's just plain tough. When I went through it, I had the support of some very close friends and family but I didn't know anyone who'd been through this - or ever even seen it before - and I certainly didn't have a big sister or an aunt to take me down to the grocery store and teach me how to do it. Honestly, this experience was a huge part of the impetus to found this site. We're just starting out ourselves but we'd love to have you join us, share your story, try a recipe and hopefully find something that'll help you through. Because you aren't alone, and you shouldn't have to reinvent the wheel.