Before I get into the nitty gritty, I want to say that this post is not so much about specific food allergies, as it is about trusting your Mama instincts, following your gut, and trusting our ability to heal ourselves. And, of course, what has worked for our family might not work for yours. But this is (part of) our story, of foods that heal (or harm).
For the past two months, the baby and I (since he’s still breastfeeding) have been on a pretty strict elimination diet. Currently, while his body heals, we are not eating: dairy (cow or otherwise, including butter and ghee), eggs, legumes (beans, soy, etc), all grains, and peanuts.
What the heck do we eat, you wonder? We eat a wide variety of delicious vegetables, fruits, meats, and fish, with an emphasis on making sure I get plenty of good fats (like bacon, mmmm).
Why the strict diet? Since he was born, my baby has had tummy troubles. Right from the start, he only had a bowel movement on average once a week (yes, that means that sometimes he went as long as a week and a half!) At first, I must admit, this seemed sort of lucky – so little poop to clean up! But the reality was that he was in pain. He went through a colicky phase, like so many babies, and would scream for a few hours each night (in addition to the infrequent pooping). I suspected that he might have a dairy allergy, and I talked with both my midwife and our pediatrician. Our midwife said, Well there are two schools of thought – one is that a breastfeeding mother should eat what she wants because she’s already working hard with a newborn baby and doesn’t need the extra craziness of worrying about special diets. The other school of thought is that it’s worth it to cut out foods because it might hugely improve your baby’s health and happiness. Our pediatrician said, Some babies are just like this – they really get everything out of your milk, and as long as he doesn’t have hard stools, it’s fine.
So I did try cutting out dairy, but there were two problems. First problem is that I am a dairy addict. A fiend. You may recall my plans to get a family cow so that I could have fresh milk and make my own cheese. Right. So cutting out dairy required tremendous willpower, but I did try to do it. The other (big) problem was that I didn’t know that you have to wait a full two weeks for any food to exit your system and your baby’s system. And I underestimated how sensitive he could be, and was still eating butter. When it didn’t seem to be helping after a week (a whole long week!), I caved and attacked a pint of organic ice cream.
The months went on. My baby was gorgeous, pretty mellow, seemingly perfect and healthy in every way . . . except that he never pooped. When it was getting closer, he (and I) would toss and turn all night and he would wake up screaming. When he finally had a bowel movement, it was very painful for him, and heart-wrenching for me. I took him to our family acupuncturist, but their opinion was close to the pediatrician’s – some babies are just like this.
Meanwhile, I was learning a lot about food allergies for products we were creating at the bakery. I was thinking about food sensitivities a lot, and found some great resources like Paleo Parents and Nom Nom Paleo, that made me feel like giving up these foods for a period of time to try and help my baby’s health wasn’t really that big a deal. It would, in fact, be delicious, and probably a good break for my body, as well, from years of over-indulging in foods like dairy.
One day, the baby had a very painful bowel movement, and there was a little bit of blood in his stool. And that was it – I committed fully, I was going to solve this, even if I had to eat only kale and salmon for the next few years. Also, I looked it up a bit more and found that while most people say constipation in breast-fed babies is no big deal, some people, like Dr. Sears warn of the dangers, like the stretching of the intestines, and tearing of the lining. Most people eliminate all possible allergens at once, and then after their systems have cleared, start to reintroduce them one at a time to see if they have a reaction. Being a bit wimpy, I took them out one by one. (In all fairness, it is extra hard to avoid grains and butter when you run a deliciously awesome bakery!) I took out grains and beans first, then dairy, then eggs. I wrote it on the calender, so I would know when the two weeks had passed, and wouldn’t be expecting improvements before then.
Guess what? By two weeks without everything, the baby was having bowel movements every day or every other day. Without screaming. Occasionally I don’t even know he’s pooped! This is, you might imagine, sort of like a miracle to me, and also very affirming. Then Thanksgiving came, and I held strong through all the temptations! But then, our whole family got the flu, and in my sick delirium, a loaf of bread on the counter spoke to me. A loaf of bread with spelt and egg in it. And I ate, um, quite a few slices. A few days later, on Christmas morning, some handmade gorgeous chocolate turtles (containing butter) were under the tree. I have very little willpower when there’s chocolate involved – so I ate a few of those too, thinking, “There can’t be enough butter in here to possibly affect him . . . “ Well, just as my baby stopped crying because of the flu, he started crying because once again, his tummy ached and he wasn’t pooping. Darn.
So we are back in the cleansing and healing stage. The eat lots of amazing vegetables, fruits, meats, seafood, and don’t forget your lacto-fermented foods (he loves saurkraut!) phase. And I plan to keep us here a good long while, and then slowly, carefully test out some foods to see how his body reacts. My hope, of course, is that he will heal and eventually be able to enjoy all of these foods in moderation. And yes, I still believe truly that foods like whole grains, raw dairy, and pasture-raised eggs can be part of a healthy diet, and I look forward to enjoying them again (hopefully with more moderation). But for now, we’re in our own special food world, and frankly, it’s not that hard.
I look forward to hearing your stories, too, and your questions, if I can be of any help. Thanks for sharing the journey, as always.