Updated: Jan 5, 2020
For most newborns, one of the hardest parts of adapting to life outside the womb is digestion. Just like the respiratory system, the digestive system suddenly has to get to work soon after birth! Digestion brings lots of new sensations, including pain. In this first of a 2-part series on infant digestion, I am focusing on how a breastfeeding mother’s diet affects her baby. Next month, I’ll share additional tips on how to strengthen and soothe newborn digestion.
Most babies seem to feel fine no matter what their moms eat for the first week or two, but many struggle with digestion after that. They will arch their backs and cry, wriggle around a lot, obviously uncomfortable. Their bellies may be sensitive to touch, and getting them to sleep can be challenging. In these circumstances, I start to look at what mama is eating. Clients often say to me, “But I’m eating what I ate in pregnancy. My baby should be used to this.” The reality is that what a mama ate in pregnancy never was processed through her baby’s digestive system. It is best to be gentle with the newborn stomach, intestines and colon as they practice doing their jobs and get up to speed. Anything a breastfeeding mother can do to help is great! So, if you suspect that something in your diet may be causing your little one digestive distress, here are the 3 food groups I recommend you avoid for a couple weeks to see things get better.
Dairy – The protein molecules in cow’s dairy are passed through a mother’s milk. They are large and spiky, and easily irritate the digestive tract of a newborn baby. Dairy can take a while to get out of your system, so give this one a whole 2 weeks to see if your baby is sensitive to dairy in your diet. Generally, butter is ok to eat as the milk solids are a small percentage of the total volume. Ghee is pure butter fat, which means the milk solids are removed.
Brassicas - This is the family of vegetables that includes kale, broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and cauliflower. These veggies often make adults gassy, and it seems that the culprit is the same for infants. Though there isn’t a lot of research on how compounds get transferred from a mother’s intestines to her blood to her breast milk, the culprit is likely the same for babies and adults. Raffinose is a sugar in brassicas that the human body has a hard time breaking down, especially when eaten raw rather than cooked. Sulphide and mercaptan are produced as we try to digest raffinose and that’s what causes painful bubbles in baby’s belly!
Alliums – This family of vegetables includes onion, garlic, leeks, shallots, etc. They contain fructans that many people have a hard time digesting. Because of this they often ferment in the gut and create gas, bloating and irritation. Again there isn’t much research on the chemistry of infant digestion, but it makes sense that fructans passing into a mothers blood stream and breastmilk can cause these same symptoms in babies.
So, try it out! Remove these three food groups from your diet and see improvement in your baby’s mood and digestion within a few days. Dairy can take up to a week to get out of your system, so be patient with that one. You’ll be much happier with a baby who is comfortably digesting your breastmilk. It may seem hard to do without these things, but once you start looking for recipes without them, you’ll find MANY options. My blog has numerous recipes that are friendly to this diet. And you don’t need to avoid these foods for the rest of your breastfeeding days, just give your baby’s digestive system time to get stronger. After 2-4 weeks, try reintroducing one food per week. To make things easier on YOUR digestion, make sure the foods are cooked, and served warm. Hang in there mama, these days of discomfort are hard, but with this plan, things will be moving in the right direction!
Life Beyond Birth provides support for expectant parents, and new babies & their families, online and in-person. Find a class or contact Molly at www.lifebeyondbirth.com.