AllergyBreastfeedingCommon ProblemsFirst FoodsFussy Baby

Is my baby allergic to cow’s milk?

“My baby has uncomfortable gas in the evenings and seems to wake often in discomfort. He also seems to spit up a lot, sometimes it’s projectile. My pediatrician suggested fennel tea for him, which seemed to help. Yesterday, he had some mucus in his poop, and he is pooping much more than normal. Could this be a food sensitivity to cow’s milk in my diet?”

The first thing to remember is that all babies are gassy.

Newborns have an immature digestive system and it takes a few weeks for things to come up to speed. This is why babies start on tiny amounts of colostrum, which is packed with immune factors, probiotics and prebiotics, which are “food for probiotics.”

Your colostrum slowly changes over to mature milk, but it still has loads of these very important factors that we know about, and many more that we don’t. Human milk is easily digested and provides the perfect balance of protein (not too much), fat (varying amounts through out the day and night), and carbohydrates (lots and lots to grow a healthy brain). The bottom line is it’s normal for babies to be gassy and uncomfortable in the beginning.

How uncomfortable is your baby?

Uncomfortable is not the same as painful. Pain is always a sign to get help, and if your baby is crying in pain, you should seek out more information from your doctor.

Your baby should be happy (most of the time) and gaining enough weight.

Their stool should be mustard yellow and loose. Normal poop is runny, or pasty. It might be seedy, or not. Normal stools might occasionally have mucus, but not every day, or even every week.

Over the counter remedies you can try

To help relieve digestive discomfort, you can give your baby teaspoons of fennel tea, drops of gripe water, gas drops or homeopathic remedies formulated to relieve gas, fussiness, or colic.

What you should know about food sensitivities

If your baby has mucus, and/or off-color poop, like green, brown or flecked with blood or brown spots, then it’s time to look at what you, and your baby, are eating.

Spitting up is normal, in small amounts, like a tablespoon, or two. Projectile vomiting is not normal and anything that requires changing your outfit, or their’s, is not considered a “small amount.” And, if it has blood in it, and your nipples aren’t bleeding, then that also is not normal.

If your baby is being supplemented with formula, it’s a sign to change formulas. Talk with your doctor about other kinds, and work with a lactation consultant to increase your production. If you have a trusted donor, you might research supplementing with donor milk, instead of formula.

If your baby is only drinking your milk, then they might be sensitive to something you are eating. This is relatively uncommon and it is estimated that only 5 out of 100 babies is sensitive in this way.

How do I know and where do I start?

Your baby can be sensitive to literally any food you are eating. But, in the USA, we usually narrow the list down to “The Big Eight:” foods that dominate the Standard American Diet (SAD): Cow’s milk, Soy, Corn, Wheat, Eggs, Tree nuts, Peanuts, and Fish/Shellfish. And for most babies, that list can be further narrowed down to one food, cow’s milk. When a baby is sensitive to something in their mother’s milk, often it is dairy.

Why cow’s milk?

Thanks to advertising by the American Dairy Association, Americans consume way more milk than is necessary. Cheese consumption has increased eight fold in the past 40 years. The standard dietary recommendation is no more than 2 servings of dairy per day. A serving size being 8 oz of milk, 8 oz of regular yogurt, 4 oz of Greek yogurt, a 1″ cube of cheese, or 1 square of American cheese. Overeating any one food causes problems from indigestion and obesity, to malnutrition and food sensitivities.

We don’t actually even need milk.

Mammals make milk for their babies. And all mammal babies wean off the breast and eat food, as they grow into adults. Humans are the only species that regularly consumes other mammal’s milk, and we do it way beyond childhood. Milk is a nutrient dense, tasty and easy food to enhance a diet, and people all over the world have raised cows, goats, and sheep for just this purpose.

But many cultures in the world do not eat dairy at all. They eat fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, meats, beans, grains, herbs, spices, and water. The climate and the growing season determines the variety and nutritional content of their diet. And in areas of the world with year-round crops and plenty of water, their diet is rich and varied and not at all SAD. 🙁

What is the physical cause of the problem?

What happens in a mom’s milk is still open for further study. We used to think that food proteins traveled through her intestine wall into her blood stream (aka leaky gut) and from their into her milk. Her baby lacks enzymes to digest these proteins and has a reaction to them. Now scientist are wondering if it’s actually the antibodies from the mother’s digestive problems (leaky gut) appearing in her milk, that are causing a reaction in the baby. Antibiotics and a mono-diet, especially the SAD are contributing factors.

Either way, this is a call to clean up and vary your diet

We have access to more variety and fresh food, than ever before in time. We can go to any supermarket and come home with a multicultural feast, any day of the week! It is time to put this into practice.

Start with fruits. It’s easy and tasty to diversify your fruit diet, especially if you include bagged frozen fruits. Include one new fruit each time you shop. Focus on one at a time, and learn how you like to eat them. I always had grapefruit cut in half by my mom, sectioned with a knife, and sprinkled with sugar. Now, I buy smaller grapefruits and eat them like an orange. I crave the dry and bitter membrane, alongside the juicy sweet sections, bursting in my mouth.

Explore live foods like pickles, kimchee and sauerkraut.

These are sold in the refrigerator case, near the bacon and hot dogs (in my supermarket). They have living probiotics from fermentation, and they are said to increase your digestive health. In any case, they taste good and broaden your diet. Kombucha is another popular living food. While we are on this topic, you can also add a probiotic supplement. The proof of these being beneficial is largely anecdotal, but some people swear by them.

Eat more food that looks like food.

Your diet should consist of food, in as natural a state as possible. Rice, not Rice Krispies. Apples, not fruit rollups. Meat, not cold cuts. Peanuts, not Snickers. Potatoes, not Pringles. Almonds, not almond “milk.”

Shopping the perimeter of the store is always important, and especially if you suspect your baby is sensitive to something you are eating. Boxed, canned and shelf-stable foods are full of SAD ingredients. You can find them printed in BOLD in the ingredients list, and usually with an allergen warning. While it takes a mind shift and some food prep skills, you won’t ever have to walk those long aisles of shelf-stable foods again, except for beans, grains, teas, and an occasional chocolate bar.

Keep increasing the variety of your diet.

I always say, there’s no such thing as bad-tasting vegetables, only bad cooks making bad-tasting vegetables. Shop farmstands and Farmer’s Markets, and meet your farmer. Join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) and get a tasty course of seasonal cooking. Shop your (unsprayed, naturally) lawn for dandelions, purslane and gill-over-the-ground. With diligence, you can eat lawn weeds to extinction, and never need chemicals again.

Grains should be left whole, and simmered or sprouted.

Try a pot of quinoa or millet, instead of white rice. Oatmeal is a classic. Polenta is amazing hot or cold, sweet or savory. Mix a cup of cooked grain into your salad to make it more filling. White bread, pasta, crackers, and cold cereal really have no place in a healthy diet, except as an occasional option.

Meats may be a part of your diet, or not.

Be sure to rotate, eating a variety of different animals, because a mono-diet is a part of the problem. If you only eat chicken, for instance, rotate it with beans, or vegetables. Don’t have chicken every day.

Nuts, and especially peanuts, are well known for allergies in America.

But in Israel, peanut allergies are uncommon, and sesame allergies, are common. Again, rotate your diet through a variety of nuts. Even the popular and well-regarded almond can give some babies diarrhea and diaper rash.

Beans have a bad reputation for giving humans gas when eating them.

This is partly how you prepare them. But a common misconception is that when you eat beans, they give your baby gas, as well. This is mostly untrue, but if your baby has a sensitivity to a particular bean, this might be true. Soybeans come to mind, and this is partly because soy is in nearly every processed food. You probably eat more soy, than you would imagine.

Spices play an important role in digestion in other cultures.

Indian cooking has a detailed plan for making food digestible and filling. They plan each meal to have all of the “Six Tastes” so that you feel satiated and your body digests the meal easily. Spices like fennel and cardamom are popular digestives. They can be taken as teas, as well.

Teas are an important part of our diet for their nutritious and health benefits.

Surprisingly, many Americans never get past Lipton, Peppermint and Chamomile tea. Herbs contain many nutrients and compounds that stimulate, nourish and calm our body’s many systems. They are comforting when hot and refreshing when cold. They also make an excellent beverage when trying to wean off milk, whether cow, or plant-based milk.

What not to do

When people suspect that a food is causing their baby discomfort or health problems, the first thing they usually do is run out and buy all these substitutes for the offending food. Soon their fridge is filled with almond “yogurt”, cashew “cheese”, almond “milk” and cashew “ice cream.” Do you see what happened here? They just substituted one of “The Big Eight” for another. They did not broaden their diet.

The second crazy thing people will do, is stop eating all foods except for turkey and rice, for example. Turkey and rice for breakfast. Turkey and rice for lunch, turkey and rice for dinner and “rice cream” for dessert. First, the problem is it’s boring and extremely stressful. The second is, what if their baby is the one-in-a-million that is sensitive to turkey and/or rice? Well, at least they will probably notice THAT pretty quickly! The main problem is that it’s still a mono-diet.

Here’s a simpler approach

Try rotating the suspect food in your diet. Eat it once a day or better yet, one serving every second, or third, day. If the problems reduce to manageable, great! if they don’t, continue to the next step.

Remove ONE suspected food completely from your diet. And, add widely tolerated fruits and vegetables, that you love and bring you comfort, into your diet. My list would include berries (fresh or frozen), oranges, sweet potatoes, bitter greens like lettuce and escarole, carrots, raisins, dates and apples from the farmstand. Take a few minutes to think of what fits this description for you. Eat these when you are missing your food suspect.

Give this two weeks. If the problem is gone, great! Continue for a few months. If not, continue reading.

Eat some of the suspect food, preferably in the morning so you have stamina to deal with a cranky baby if they have a reaction. This is a test. If they seem normal, you can resume eating the suspect food again, along with your newly BROADENED diet.

If you saw no change with Suspect #1.

Next, remove ONE or TWO more foods from your suspect list and go for two weeks again, eating widely tolerated favorite fruits and vegetables to ease your cravings for the suspect foods. If the problem is gone, great! Continue on for a few months.

If you saw no clear results with suspects #2 and #3, it’s time to seek help.

Many lactation consultants are knowledgable about this and can help you. You can also want to seek help from a pediatric allergist and a nutritionist. An additional note, if your baby is eating solid food along with breastfeeding, you want to remove the food from their solid food diet as well.

While food sensitivity is not a true allergy, it is a true medical condition. The treatment is mostly managing your diet and your baby’s diet, and moving towards eating a wide variety of whole foods, in as close to their natural state, as possible.

If you have questions about your particular situation, you can text me at 845-750-4402, or email, donna@breastfeedingcafe.org. You can read more about lactation consultation at https://donnabruschi.com

Mother of three, including twins; Lactation Consultant; Partner of Michael;

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