In theory, feeding your baby is a natural process. In reality, it can be challenging and difficult at times, especially in the first six weeks and ESPECIALLY if your little one presents with symptoms of colic and/or reflux. As a mum who has breastfed three babies, one of whom struggled with colic and reflux and was diagnosed with a food intolerance, I’ve lived and experienced all that comes with the first six weeks of breastfeeding a baby. Within this article I will outline foods that may impact babies within the first six weeks in line with current research AND personal experience. It is my hope that in doing so, your breastfeeding journey can be as enjoyable as possible in the first six weeks.
Please note, this article is intended to provide you with inspiration and is NOT intended to replace medical advice. Always be guided by your health care provider.
Colic and reflux
Infant colic has been described by Wessel et al. as starting at 3 weeks of age with more than 3 hours of crying a day for 3 days a week (or more) for more than 3 weeks’ duration (Schach and Haight, 2002). For me personally, colic looked like a LOT of crying, very little sleep and a really challenging newborn period. The ‘newborn bubble’ burst pretty quickly as the no-sleep reality set in.
Thankfully, with the medically guided elimination of a few food suspects and a diagnosis of Cow’s Milk Protein Intolerance we saw an improvement in my daughter’s colic and reflux symptoms (you can read more about that journey here).
While the jury is still out for many medical professionals, literature suggests there may be a relationship between food allergy and colicky behaviour in newborns (Schach and Haight, 2002).
Foods that may more challenging for newborn babies
There are common foods that many experts agree may be more challenging for babies during the first six weeks. Every mother and baby is different and there are many factors that will influence how a baby responds to food. If you notice your baby is more unsettled, appears uncomfortable, presents with symptoms of colic or reflux or is generally unhappy it is always worthwhile to speak to your health care provider. In addition, it may be worthwhile to explore your diet and consider whether foods you are eating may be having an influence.
Often, once a baby settles into the breastfeeding routine and passes the first few months they are able to tolerate a wider range of food.
It is important to remember that this article is NOT encouraging avoidance, but rather written with the intention to arm you with evidence-based information so that you can become more aware of how your baby responds to the food you eat and respond accordingly. Keeping a food and symptom diary is a great approach as you can take it along to your health care provider for review and provide them with as much information as possible, short of them living in your home!
It is important that if you choose to avoid or temporarily restrict foods that you are still meeting your nutritional needs via other foods and/or supplementation. This is one of the reasons why it is important to be guided by your chosen health care provider.
So what does the research suggest:
There is controversy and debate among medical professionals as to whether a mother’s food intake impacts a baby, specifically with regards to colic and distress. A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics showed exclusion of allergenic foods from a mother’s diet was associated with a reduction in distressed behaviour among breastfed infants with colic presenting in the first 6 weeks of life (Hill et al., 2005). The foods excluded in this randomised controlled trial included cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, soy, and fish. This is obviously a significant number of foods to exclude, therefore it is important that if your baby presents with colic you speak to your health care provider before embarking on a restrictive diet to consider whether this is right for you. There are also alternative (and less restrictive) exclusion methods, such as excluding one food at a time for a period of time (usually around two weeks) before reintroducing it and noting symptoms. This was the process I personally used to identify my daughter’s intolerance to cow’s milk. An elimination diet should always be done under the supervision of a health care provider such as a naturopath, paediatrician, nutritionist/dietician or other chosen health care provider.
It appears that many midwives and maternal health providers see a similar pattern in the first six weeks with regards to other common foods that may trigger discomfort for babies, with many agreeing on the following foods:
- Chocolate/cacao (naturally contains caffeine)
- Cow’s milk
to name a few.
My personal experience
There are a handful of foods that appeared more challenging for all three of my babies during the first six weeks. By being more mindful of these foods during my latest breastfeeding journey, I have found (whether coincidentally or as a result) that my third baby Leo has been more settled and has presented with less symptoms of colic and reflux than my first two babies. I didn’t strictly avoid the below foods but I was mindful of when I was consuming them, how often I was consuming them and how my baby responded to them. By mindfully eating these foods I noticed any unsettled periods, reflux-type symptoms or discomfort quickly and I was able to reduce my intake of those foods.
The following foods are ones that I found most challenging for my babies in the first six weeks:
- Oranges and orange juice
- Tomatoes and tomato salsa
- Leafy greens, especially cos and iceberg lettuce (spinach was okay in small amounts)
- Broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage
- Chocolate and coffee
- Milk products (note that my daughter also had Cows Milk Protein Intolerance which resulted in more severe symptoms for her. Read THIS post for more information on this topic).
- Soy products
- Lentils if consumed in large amounts
- Medium and hot spicy food
- Sugar (for example, lollies)
- Bananas (symptoms: a stuffy nose if eaten excessively)
Once my babies were 8-16 weeks old I found these foods weren’t as troublesome and I was able to add them into my diet as per usual or in small amounts.
So what can a breastfeeding mum eat in the first six weeks?
I relate to feeling overwhelmed when told ‘you can’t eat this and that’. Something I encourage clients to do is to write a list of everything they CAN eat without it impacting their newborn baby and sticking it to the fridge. This means every time you go to your pantry or fridge you aren’t feeling disheartened, but rather informed and excited to trial new foods or try new recipes. Keeping a food and symptom diary is one of the best approaches to take as you will be able to quickly identify any possible triggers and plan accordingly.
I personally found a basic and simple nourishing diet in the first six weeks meant I was able to quickly identify any troublesome foods. Eating basic and simple meals also has the added benefit of saving you time and making meal times easier (and we all know that’s a bonus in the first few weeks!). Over time I was able to expand my food intake and pinpoint any foods that they might not yet be able to tolerate as well as others.
I’ve listed below a few of my favourite meals (and linked recipes where possible) for each meal time to give you a handful of ideas.
- Oats/overnight oats/porridge (this is a brilliant option for milk supply!)
- Zucchini oats
- Quinoa porridge
- Simple banana smoothie (banana, coconut milk or enriched rice milk and chia seeds. Build upon this with additional foods/powders one at a time).
- Oat sourdough, toasted and topped with avocado, hemp seeds and a pinch of salt/seasoning
- Buckwheat Pancakes (if eggs are not tolerated use 1 tbsp chia seeds + 4 tbsp water in place of each egg)
LUNCH AND DINNER IDEAS:
- Stir fry with pumpkin, zucchini, mushrooms and carrot, served alongside chicken or a small amount of pre-soaked and cooked chickpeas and rice.
- Pumpkin or vegetable soup
- Roasted vegetable salad (eg sweet potato, pumpkin, zucchini) served with protein of choice (eg chicken, fish or a sprinkle of seeds)
- Coconut based dishes
- Quinoa mushroom ‘risotto’
- Chicken noodle soup
- ‘Basic’ meals such as lean protein, rice and steamed vegetables (don’t underestimate a basic meal – these are some of my favourites!).
- Rice cakes topped with avocado, hemp seeds and seasoning
- Banana (start with half a banana) and tahini
- Chia pudding
- Cucumber and carrot sticks with hummus (if tolerated)
- Bliss balls (if nuts are not tolerated replace with oats or coconut)
Supplementing with probiotics may also support mum and baby in the first six weeks. Some studies have indicated the administration of specific strains of probiotics beneficial for symptoms of colic (Szajewska et al., 2013).
When things get tough, don’t improve or you’re worried
When it comes to your baby, TRUST YOUR GUT. If you feel as though something isn’t quite right it is always worth seeking advice from your health care provider. Don’t be afraid to seek second opinions and persevere until you you feel heard and have options to explore.
I hope this information was helpful and provides you with a place to start or food for thought.
You may also enjoy this video:
Hania Szajewska, Ewa Gyrczuk and Andrea Horvath. Lactobacillus reuteri DSM 17938 for the Management of Infantile Colic in Breastfed Infants: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. The Journal of Pediatrics Feb 2013, 162 (2) 257-262.
Schach, B and Haight, M. Colic and Food Allergy in the Breastfed Infant: Is It Possible for an Exclusively Breastfed Infant to Suffer From Food Allergy? Journal of Human Lactation 2002, 18 (1).