The topic of breastfeeding couldn’t be more important to me as I breastfed my big girl for 15 months (it was her decision to end it) and I am now breastfeeding my 10 months old, literally as I write this, too. Breastfeeding may be difficult, but it is very rewarding, and it is now my priority to solve whatever issue we get so that I could breastfeed my girl as long as she needs it. That is why I am very interested in the topic myself and try to keep up to date with research and recommendations. And this is why I decided to compose a guide to healthy eating during breastfeeding, which will be coming in my next post. But first, I want to share my journey into breastfeeding, hoping that it might help somebody struggling out there and also hoping to show that it does matter what the mother eats during this very important time.
Breastfeeding is a roller-coaster ride. With my first this ride was relatively breezy, except for one little thing that I still regret about. When my daughter was just over 3 weeks old she was hospitalised because she had a problem with her tummy. It was terribly swollen, to the point that our GP had been scared that she might have had a tumour. Extensive scans and tests had shown nothing except for a lot of gas bubbles in her tummy. Paediatricians in the regional hospital did not know what to do – the diagnosis was a mystery and they couldn’t perform any more tests. They had to transfer her to one of the three biggest children’s hospitals in the country, but they were all full and we had to wait for a bed.
During the four days that we spent in the regional hospital, my baby was on the antibiotic drip and I wasn’t allowed to feed her. I didn’t have a breast pump, and I honestly don’t know why I didn’t get one ASAP, but I had to use the hospital’s own pumps at the maternity floor, and in order to do that I had to leave my baby either alone or with my husband when he was there. But he wasn’t there at night, so oftentimes I would stay by the cot for 8 hours straight without pumping, and as a result, my milk supply had decreased. I also wasn’t eating and drinking enough fluids to sustain the milk production, and it might have affected the supply, too, but probably not as much as the infrequent pumping.
Once we got transfered to a specialised hospital, I was allowed to feed straight away. Both me and my girl couldn’t be happier, until we found a problem. I didn’t have enough milk and after 4 days of just IV fluids she was very hungry. Frustrated and concerned about my hungry baby, I had to supplement with formula milk, hoping that in a couple of days my supply will get back to normal. Little did I know that by giving her a bottle I lessened my chances of getting the supply back because there just wasn’t enough demand for it. Unfortunately, we ended up supplementing all the way till she dropped our feeds comletely and went on the follow on milk.
Regarding the diagnosis, one had never been made. Whatever she had, either the antibiotics or her system itself had cleared it. We celebrated her 1st month ‘birthday’ in the hospital and then went home as if nothing had ever happened.
With baby #2 this ride was not as easy. Unlike her sister, when she was born she couldn’t latch properly. While I didn’t produce any milk for the first couple of days, she was constantly hungry. First, the colostrum wasn’t enough for her (the same was with her older sister), and second, she couldn’t even get all of the colostrum because of the latch. I was overwhelmed, she was frustrated to the point where she’d become all jittery and the midwives were worried that her blood sugar would drop, so they insisted on giving her some formula milk. I felt extremely guilty with this decision – after having low milk supply with my first I was determined not to give any formula at all to my second, but once again, I had little choice. In the first 2 days of her life we gave her only 3 top ups of formula and then my milk came, her latch improved, and again we both couldn’t be happier.
The first sign of a problem I spotted when she was about 2 weeks old. Her soiled nappies were of green colour and had mucous in it. The colour was never that perfect mustard yellow and I was puzzled what could be wrong. Then I noticed some strange behaviour on her side: she would be crying and looking for some soothing at my breast, but once she started eating, she would start pulling off the breast and crying even more. It was almost like feeding was painful for her. Although she was generally a happy baby and a good sleeper, this behaviour went side by side with colicky cries and the green mucousy nappies. It took me further 2 weeks to realise that this all happened after I ingested some form of dairy.
I am mildly lactose intolerant. I can tolerate some dairy in my diet, but sooner or later it will take its toll on me. Still I couldn’t refuse myself some hot chocolate or a brownie when out and about. And it turned out that my baby was allergic to cow’s milk. As my doctor explained, normally milk proteins do not pass into mother’s milk, unless the mother is lactose intolerant. He didn’t know that I was intolerant, but once the question of milk allergy arose, he asked me straight away ‘Are you lactose intolerant?’ Boy, was I surprised!
Anyway, after excluding all dairy from my diet we saw a temporary improvement to her well-being, but not as much as we wanted to. Her symptoms would come and go, and I was absolutely sure that there was no trace of dairy in my diet now. Until one day we made a dish that contained quite a lot of eggs (I was normally eating about 1 or 2 every other day). That day the symptoms came back full force. We had found another culprit.
Thank god, she wasn’t allergic to anything else. After cutting all eggs and dairy from my diet, she became a happy child. It took another 4 weeks to finally see a mustard yellow nappy, no green, no mucous, no blood. But if I once in a while gave in to temptation and had one cookie or brownie, that was enough to cause the symptoms.
Now she is 10 months old. Luckily, she stopped reacting to eggs about 2 or 3 months ago. But as of last month, she would still react to dairy if I had too much of it (usually after eating out in a restaurant), so I don’t normally ingest any dairy, nor do I give her any dairy or eggs. As for the rest of the solid food, she seems to be ok with them and she absolutely loves nibbling on fresh strawberries, apples and melon.
A brief word about colics.
With my first baby I ate pretty much everything, except veggies and fruit, which weren’t in season and I wasn’t very fond of them anyway. There was no particular diet that I adhered to, I had junk food occasionally, I ate cakes and sweets, meat, rice, pasta and potatoes. She had colics. To minimise them I gave up dairy, especially after the hospital stay. I don’t know if it helped because I was also giving her gripe water. The colics went away after 4 months. She also suffered baby acne and eczema.
With the second baby, dairy was not only causing her colics, but the allergic reactions. After eliminating dairy and eggs, I made no other adjustments to my diet. It is cleaner than years ago with my first, mostly vegetarian, with lots of fresh fruit, berries, vegetables, beans, you name it. I also drink coffee, about 1 cup a day. I eat chocolate and nuts. No colics whatsoever. No skin conditions, too.
I shared this bit of personal information just to show you how important the maternal diet is during breastfeeding. It is also extremely important to listen to your baby and re-adjust your diet according to it, and speak with a doctor if there is any concern. Each baby is different and might react to foods in a different manner. Although there is usually little or no link between the mother’s diet and colics in the baby as the studies suggest, some foods may still trigger a reaction if the baby is allergic or intolerant to a particular food. Eating junk also doesn’t help, neither you, nor your baby. I can’t stress enough how important it is to eat right to ensure the best nutrition for yourself and the baby. Don’t avoid foods just because you think they would affect your baby (like beans or berries). Eat a little bit, one at a time, and see if there’s any reaction. If not, continue eating them. If there is a reaction then avoid them.
In the next post I will share the guidelines for healthy eating during breastfeeding and will also look at the common myths and misconceptions.