WHY ELIMINATION DIETS DURING BREASTFEEDING CAN BE DANGEROUS

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One of the most common recommendations for breastfeeding moms with inconsolable or fussy babies is removing foods from their diet.  Let’s take a closer look at why that might do more harm than good.


BY: CRYSTAL KARGES, MS, RDN, IBCLC

Life as a new, breastfeeding mom can be challenging for many women. Sleep deprivation and fear can make for a bad combination for those early postpartum days as you’re desperately learning how to breastfeed. And nursing in the wee hours of the morning can be prime time for over-analyzing your parenting abilities.

This can be especially true if a breastfed baby is inconsolable, fussy, or colicky.  And so the well-meaning advice and suggestions pour in: swaddling techniques, miracle swing sets, and most bitingly, your feeding capabilities.  

In fact, it is a common recommendation to eliminate one or more foods from mom’s diet. Sadly, countless of women are advised to unnecessarily cut out several foods or even entire food groups from their diet without any real basis or meaning.

It sounds like a pretty straightforward solution: just cut it out from your diet.

Crying, fussiness or irregular sleeping patterns are too easily blamed on mom’s food choices, which can cause her to doubt everything she is eating. Many moms then begin to cut out multiple foods from her diet for fear on how they may be negatively impacting her baby. In actuality, most infant fussiness is normal behavior that is unlikely related to mom’s diet.

However, hearing this advice may cause you to start questioning every food choice you make, only adding more chaos to this stressful season of new motherhood.

“The baby is fussy again – was it that piece of chocolate I just ate?”

“She won’t fall asleep – is it the glass of milk I had before bed?”

The list of all the “bad” foods that could somehow be toxic to your baby grows longer and longer: gluten, dairy, soy, tree-nuts, peanuts, fish, shellfish, and on and on.

Let’s be real: postpartum mamas already have enough going on as it is after birthing a baby into the world, and feeling scared or worried about what you’re eating while breastfeeding isn’t conducive to physical, mental, and emotional well-being.

So why would a breastfeeding mom be advised to restrict different foods from her diet while nursing in the first place?

Elimination diets might be recommended when a breastfed baby is suspected to be sensitive to certain foods that mom might be eating or allergic to a food in a mom’s diet. Some of the main foods/food groups that would be advised to eliminate may include:

  • Dairy, including milk, cheese, yogurt
  • Gluten and grains
  • Certain fruits and vegetables
  • Soy and/or soy based products
  • Fish, shellfish
  • Spicy foods, spices
  • Peanuts, tree nuts
  • Eggs
  • Processed foods, sugar

According to the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, it is recommended that moms follow an elimination diet in the case that allergic colitis (an allergic reaction to certain proteins) is suspected in an exclusively breastfed baby.

However, allergic colitis (AC) in healthy, breastfeeding infants is difficult to identify and treat.

One study found that a significant proportion of infants may be misdiagnosed with AC, and mothers may undergo unnecessary diet changes that discourage breastfeeding.

The problem is when elimination diets are inappropriately recommended for mothers of babies who are exhibiting normal behaviors or who have misdiagnosed conditions.

Elimination diets have become all too commonplace and are often prescribed without no real medical basis. In fact, research has also found that a majority of breastfeeding mothers will restrict certain foods unnecessarily. In one study of breastfeeding moms, researchers found that all of the woman who participated were restricting at least 1 type of food without medical necessity, and over a third of these breastfeeding mothers experienced difficulties as a result of dietary restrictions.

The fact is, nutrient demands are increased from pregnancy and breastfeeding, which can be impossible to meet under the restrictions of an elimination diet.

A mother who is nutrient deficient may be susceptible to more complications, both physically and mentally, running the risk of crashing and burning.  When a breastfeeding mother limits the foods that she can eat, this increases the risk of poor nutrition postpartum, and can put a mother at danger for multiple things, including:

  • Increased risk of maternal mental illness, such as postpartum depression and anxiety
  • Prolonged healing from pregnancy and childbirth
  • Malnutrition
  • Low milk supply
  • Difficulty breastfeeding
  • Sub-optimal quality of life

The demands and stressors on a new mother are already hard enough as it is. Adding the pressure to follow a limited diet makes new motherhood exponentially more difficult, and can make it impossible for breastfeeding mothers to thrive. As the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine has noted,

The maternal risks of an extensively restrictive elimination diet must be weighed against the potential infant benefits.”

The bottom line: unless there is a diagnosed food allergy in a mother or her nursing infant, or suspected signs of food allergies or reactions to certain foods, it is safe for a breastfeeding mother to eat a balanced diet and enjoy a variety of foods.

Ultimately, if a nursing mother is able to meet her nutrient needs without any adverse reaction to her baby, this is setting her up for optimal health, postpartum recovery, and a likelihood to thrive as a new mother.

There are enough stressors as a new mom, and food doesn’t need to be one of them.

Adapted from the original article.

Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Board Certified Lactation Consultant, & mama of 5. With a virtual nutrition practice, Crystal helps overwhelmed mamas nurture a peaceful relationship with food & their bodies, end the battles at the dinner table and transform their kitchens to place of peace & joy. Learn more at Crystal Karges Nutrition.

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