By Betty of Betty & Baby (bio below)
As a momma who’s still nursing a 15 month old with multiple food allergies, I know how difficult it is to start a breastfeeding elimination diet, let alone keep it going successfully…all without hitting a food rut. We’re going to share our story and talk elimination diets for those who are nursing or pregnant with a second child with a family allergy history and are looking to pinpoint allergies and breastfeeding is still a top priority.
Quick recap on our past 8 months
Baby J was only 7 months old when he had anaphylaxis to egg. I was alone. I was terrified. I was a wreck. But, thankfully I reacted quickly and stuck to my guns with the medics and docs. In a nutshell (no pun intended), after having a series of blood and skin tests done, it turned out that J was allergic to several nuts, eggs, and soy, with a sensitivity to wheat. What?! I had of course been eating all of those things, which to me had explained much of his eczema, dry skin, and terrible spit up phase. The icing on the cake? Not only were these foods to blame, but so were our two family pets. J had apparently had one of the most severe cat allergies the doc had ever seen. With no family history of allergy on my or hubbs’ side, this was a shock and the last thing we expected to learn about our healthy baby boy. I immediately cut out all of the offenders, yet felt deprived, weak, and extremely limited by my new diet.
So…why and *how* am I still nursing babe when I’m still eliminating all of these foods? Well, I’m determined and stubborn, to be quite honest. I had set a goal for myself in the beginning that I would breastfeed until 12 months at least, so when I got the news at barely 7 months pp, I was in a depressed slump. I had eaten eggs several times a week, baked with them, ate a handful of nuts a day, and drank almond milk religiously-all with wheat bread and flour on occasion. So I decided to just dive in, realizing that continuing to provide nourishing and safe breast milk for my son won over my difficulty cutting out a few favorite staples. I created new ones. No almond milk? Drink flax. No wheat? When’s a better time to go gluten-free? Can’t have egg? Ugh. Well, better off ditching the baked goods for now. Flax has been our go to for egg replacement, and makes some pretty tasty pancakes.
Yes, it is difficult, but it’s so worth it. Here are some tips that have helped me get through the past 8 months eliminating egg, soy, wheat, peanut, and tree nut:
1. Get the recommended food allergy tests before eliminating half of what you eat!
Sure, your baby has been gassy since he nursed an hour ago…but that doesn’t necessarily mean what *you* ate bothered him! If we gave up every food we suspected bothered little one, we’d be stuck on rice and oatmeal…forever. Do yourself a favor, if you suspect a food allergy or little one has had food-related eczema, start with a blood test with your pediatrician, or ask for a recommended allergist to at least conduct the basic infant allergen test, which includes egg, soy, wheat, peanut, tree nut, milk, and fish. Not sure which test to ask for, check out How to Know Which Food Allergy Test Is Best For You. Be persistent-don’t let a doc tell you it’s just normal spit up or irritability. You know your gut. What’s the worst that could happen? They order the test and the results are negative. Wait, that would actually be the best scenario. Get the test.
2. After confirming a sensitivity or allergen, immediately remove it from your diet and make a plan
As a nursing mother, you need to have a nutritious and varied diet, not just for babe, for your body too! Remember that your body is drawing nutrients from you to provide for baby…if you’re lacking, you both suffer for it. Food allergies and breastfeeding can go hand-in-hand. You can safely eliminate allergens to protect your wee little one. If you’re cutting out egg, try flax-a great source for omega fatty acids and functions as a rise-aid for baking. If you’re cutting out nuts, nut-milk, or nut spread, try a seed! Our go to is sunflower butter-it’s delicious and I prefer it to peanut. Try flax milk or hemp milk-baby J drinks hemp milk every day, which is an excellent alternative to whole milk and has the most similar fat ratio to cow’s, with additional iron and omega fatty acids. It’s literally the next best thing to breast milk in my opinion. If you need help with meal planning, Real Plans is a wonderful app that allows you to eliminate many foods and alter it to fit your diet.
3. Make a goal and reward yourself for sticking to it
No one’s perfect. Sounds silly, but we become accustomed to eating certain foods, particularly while we’re pregnant-for comfort, for ease, cultural reasons, you name it, but it makes it all the more difficult to change, particularly when we spend so much time caring for babe. The one thing we wanna do for ourselves at the end of the day is give ourselves something tasty and enjoy something we crave. Try to look at it a different way though-a habit only takes a few months to form. If you can provide a few healthy yet tasty alternatives to those pesky allergens, it should only take a few weeks of commitment to actually *alter* your tastebuds-aaaand tada, actually prefer your newfound replacements. Start thinking hard on an attainable nursing goal-is it 3 more months, 6 more months maybe? Work hard for a month to stick to your replacements and you’ll be surprised when you reach your goal and consider nursing longer. It’s an achievement any way you look at it, and you’re absolutely capable.
4. Consider removing the foods from your pantry and ask partner or family members for support
So hubbs doesn’t wanna ditch the peanut butter, yet your babe has a severe nut allergy? Ehhh, too bad. It’s a source of contention but in reality, you need to stick up for yourself and your concerns. If it’ll help you feel safer and perhaps nurse longer simply having the food out of your home, do it. Removing the foods from your home, at least the more serious allergens, will absolutely help you not only avoid them, but create a sense of solidarity between you and your partner. Talk about it and figure out what’s realistic-perhaps if they have a serious peanut craving they can eat them at work, but be aware that many children can still react to daddy’s kisses well after their peanut snack. Be mindful.
5. Cut yourself a break if this isn’t a realistic option for you
We’d all love nursing to be easy-eat and drink whatever we want, when we want, and not have to worry…right? It’s one thing to eliminate one food from your diet, but a different thing entirely to change your whole diet. Consider your options, ask yourself if you have a plan for daily meals, and at the end of the day, how important is it for you to keep nursing? Perhaps junior is already 11 months, and you just can’t fathom cutting out 4 staple foods. That may be different from a momma who found out at 6 or 7 months like I did. Either way, ask yourself what’s realistic for *you*. You’re the one who has to make the change.
6. Don’t let yourself be resentful
Hate to say it, but I was at first. I resented the fact that my husband could continue eating eggs for breakfast, on top of the coffee, wheat toast, peanut butter, and all the other little treats I was ‘missing out on’. Truthfully though, it was my choice to continue nursing my son. It was *my* choice to stick it out, make the change, and have to live with it. So eventually I had to decide that I couldn’t take it out on him just because I was having a hard time instituting the changes *I* had to make. Yes, it helps if you get active support from loved ones, but ultimately you gotta stand by your choice and know it’s the right decision for you!
7. You *can* eat out, just choose wisely and speak up!
So you’ve decided to take the plunge and eliminate those allergens that turn out to be in…just about everything. You can still go out and have a good time with family, just make sure to speak up as soon as your waiter arrives. A quick ‘I’m trying to avoid egg, peanut, etc, can your chef suggest an entrée?’ or ‘can I see your allergen menu’ is often welcomed by restaurants. They’re in business to serve you, and you’re not putting them out by being clear.
Here’s a few tips:
For soy and peanut: steer clear of Asian restaurants for the most part-if you’re craving sushi, try an avocado roll or California roll with *no soy sauce* and give a heads up to your chef about peanut just in case they use it in their oil.
For egg: remember that many sauces use mayo, which has egg in it. Try to avoid baked goods and be sure to ask about breads or battered food before ordering-I even ask if there’s an egg wash when ordering chicken or poultry-it’s often used without being stated on menu.
For wheat: lots of menus often have a gluten-free section so be sure to look for that.
For dairy: steer clear of ‘creamy’, ‘dipped’ or other food items that tend to use thick sauces as a base. Your best bet are grains, steamed veggies, or meats.
Read More: Tips for Dining Out With Food Allergies
At the end of the day, I know I’m grateful to my breastfeeding elimination diet for the small sacrifices I’ve been able to make to continue nursing. Whether or not you choose to continue despite allergies, know your options and know that you’re a fantastic momma no matter what. Thanks for having me! Happy nursing!
Bio: Betty is the author and founder of Betty & Baby, a motherhood blog that highlights style, food allergy, and organic living tips. Betty is a wife, mother, and college psychology instructor blogging about her life on the East Coast. She writes on the ups and downs of motherhood in an honest, yet positive way, all while chasing her busy toddler. You can find her on Facebook and Pinterest.