Lauren, 31, was a relatively healthy eater who never particularly worried about what she could or couldn't eat until her son Joel, now 2, started having digestive issues. In the next interview in our Breastfeeding Chronicles series, Lauren opens up about what it's like to overhaul your diet in order to nurse a newborn with food sensitivities.
I delivered in a birthing center, in a hospital, and it was a pretty standard, natural birth. Joel was a great latcher. But I think everyone struggles in the beginning while your body gets used to supply issues -- How much is enough? How much is too much? How much is too little? It was definitely challenging getting started, but we figured it out. I wanted to breastfeed for one year, that was my goal.
Joel was always a little fussy. He seemed gassy, and sometimes it seemed like he was trying to poop, but it was uncomfortable. He would cry, but I was a brand-new mom. What did I know? I just wrote it off as, He's an infant! He's a newborn! They cry!
About two months in, we started noticing changes in his bowel movements. Fortunately, I belonged to a moms' group, and I mentioned it to one of the women. She said, "you know, my son had a dairy sensitivity." And she described his bowel movements -- because we moms are always talking about that [laughs] -- and what she was describing sounded very familiar.
I did some searching online, and thought, maybe I need to cut dairy. So I did. Initially, I just switched to soy, and it seemed to get a little bit better, but then it went back to what it was before. I started reading more, and the information I found said that soy proteins are very similar to dairy proteins, and that babies can have trouble breaking them down. At that point, I called the pediatrician.
I'll be honest -- our first pediatrician wasn't that helpful. She kind of said, "I'll do some research, and get back to you," but then she didn't really. She suggested we try this formula that they give to newborns with allergy issues. It doesn't have any milk or soy derivatives. But what she didn't tell us is that if you don't start them on it right away, they're probably not going to take to it, because it tastes terrible. So if you're a baby who's been breastfed, and then you're given this formula ... well, our son didn't take it. At that point, I knew I was going to have to cut out all soy and dairy. I started doing a lot of label reading [laughs].
My New Diet
It was really eye-opening -- I've never had to deal with allergies, or a special diet, or anything like that -- and then all of a sudden I'm reading that milk derivatives and soy derivatives, they're everywhere! I started eating lots of avocados to try and keep my fat up to produce the amount of milk I needed to, and I ate a lot of olive oil. You find stuff. I used Earth Balance, which is like butter, and a lot of coconut-based products that I would cook with. I tried to eat a lot of eggs to keep my fat and protein up, but carbs were basically out. I was able to find some bread that didn't have milk or soy, and ended up using almond milk for my lattes. I need my lattes.
We switched practices to a group of family physicians. They didn't have a lot of information on what was going on either, but they were more supportive. They basically said, "you've cut these things out, and it seems to be working, so just keep doing what you're doing."
That's one of the things that really surprised me. From reading the forums online, it seems that this type of allergy isn't that uncommon, but doctors didn't seem to have a lot of information for me. I actually got most of my help from my mom's group -- thank god for other moms. They were able to say, "yeah, I remember that," or even just "you're doing a great job."
It's stressful. You want your child to thrive, to do everything you can for them, but you're sleep deprived and just trying to figure everything out. I can't imagine trying to deal with those early diet and breastfeeding issues while working -- having to cook the way that I had to be cooking at the time, and trying to maintain the diet, while taking care of the baby. If someone's had to have a special diet for themselves before, I'm sure it probably wouldn't be as challenging, but for someone who's never had to do that, it wasn't the easiest.
Eventually, he just sort of grew out of it. The first thing we started testing was yogurt -- someone on one of the forums recommended it. That was when Joel was around 8 and a half or 9 months. It seemed to be fine, so I slowly started to re-introduce some dairy back into my diet. It was definitely like a weight was lifted.
I went back to work when he was 8 and a half months and I started pumping, which I hadn't been doing a lot of, because I had been home. I pumped for another month and a half, but then my milk supply dwindled, so Joel was completely weaned by around 11 months. Fortunately, we were able to transition him to milk at that point.
We didn't have a dramatic experience -- and I loved breastfeeding -- but it was tricky and stressful at points. I wish someone had told me before, "there's no one thing that works for everyone. You do have to kind of wing it, and that's OK."
This account has been edited and condensed.
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