Pleasant Hill CA USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 24 No. 1, January-February 2007, pp. 4-8
One of the La Leche League International philosophy concepts states, "Good nutrition means eating a well-balanced and varied diet of foods in as close to their natural state as possible."
This is one mother's story of how she applied the concept to tailoring her family's diet to meet their needs. Other mothers are going to meet their families' needs in different ways.
I've always had a fairly healthy diet and while pregnant with both of my children, Elena (four) and Benjamin (two), I was very careful about everything I ate. My husband, Ernesto, and I wanted the best for our children from the start, and we knew that breastfeeding is best! We also believed that since human milk has subtle changes in its taste in response to what the mother is eating, breastfeeding helped our children develop a taste for the healthy foods I eat. Although Elena and Benjamin each have their own food preferences, they both eat a variety of foods and make healthy choices, something we partially attribute to breastfeeding.
Because my family has several dietary restrictions, meal preparation has become an important family event. My children and I are even making our own unique family cookbook. You may be wondering what meal preparation has to do with breastfeeding, but for my family, they are intricately linked.
My Fussy Baby and My Diet
Despite my good eating habits while breastfeeding, Elena was an extremely fussy baby. Well, fussy is actually an understatement. She had crying (usually screaming) spells that lasted two to four hours and she often appeared to have severe intestinal discomfort. "What is going on?" Ernesto and I wondered. "How can she be fussy when she's getting the best possible food?" We were stumped and did not know how to calm her. Elena's pediatrician examined possible causes of fussiness and found none. Her diagnosis was colic -- recurrent, prolonged, unexplained crying episodes in an otherwise well-appearing infant.
The pediatrician suggested that I eliminate "gassy foods" such as onions, garlic, broccoli, and cauliflower from my diet. After trying this with no improvements in Elena's symptoms, I did more research and learned that "gassy foods" are usually not the cause of colic. Rather, proteins such as those in cow's milk, soy products, and nuts may cause fussiness and physical discomfort in breastfed babies. There is evidence that eliminating dairy from the breastfeeding mother's diet can lesson the symptoms of colic.
As stated in THE BREASTFEEDING ANSWER BOK, "Some babies do show sensitivity to a food in the mother's diet, but the foods that cause reactions differ from one mother and baby to the next, so it is not sensible for all nursing mothers to avoid certain foods." La Leche League urges a mother to not discontinue breastfeeding because she is concerned about her diet affecting the level of fussiness in her breastfed baby.
Armed with a lot of information and cookbooks, I started to modify my diet to include some alternatives to the foods I was accustomed to eating. Eliminating foods from a breastfeeding mother's diet can be time-consuming and sometimes challenging. A lactating mother should consume about 500 calories per day above her non-pregnant calorie intake (about 2,700 calories per day). A La Leche League Leader can be an invaluable resource with some information on healthy diet, as can nutritional experts.
In my situation, eliminating dairy from my diet did lessen Elena's crying and physical discomfort; with the support of Elena's pediatrician, we embarked on a no-dairy diet. Even though I didn't eat a lot of dairy before, I suddenly felt extremely hungry when I started to eliminate foods that were considered staples in my diet, such as cheese and crackers, when I needed a pick-me-up. My La Leche League Leader offered a lot of suggestions and support, which helped me to continue breastfeeding and be confident in my ability to provide milk for Elena despite her colic and some family pressure to wean. Through La Leche League, I also met other mothers with similar stories. Their support and suggestions were very helpful and inspiring.
Regardless of whether or not it is necessary to change one's diet, a breastfeeding mother who has a fussy baby can sometimes feel overwhelmed. If a mother feels this way, it is important for her to receive support and have other nursing mothers to talk with. A local La Leche League meeting (or a phone call to a La Leche League Leader) is a great place to get help. (Note: Many La Leche League Groups have lending libraries with books on nutrition that mothers may find helpful.)
A Tailored Diet
Usually I hear of a diet being referred to as "restricted" when a person has to stop eating certain foods. I've learned that the word "restricted" is somewhat of a misnomer because, although it is true that one must eliminate certain foods, I have found it very liberating to be able to feed my family nutritious meals without causing any reactions due to food sensitivities. For us, it is much more pleasant to enjoy a meal free of dairy than to spend the night comforting a child with a stomach-ache. I like to refer to my diet as tailored to my family's needs. Not every family needs to alter their diets in the same way I have. Other families can tailor their diets to meet their own needs.
As Elena began to eat more solid foods and while I was pregnant with Benjamin, I slowly added a few dairy products back into our diet. But lo and behold, Benjamin was also sensitive to dairy, so when he was a newborn, I decided to completely eliminate dairy from our meals. Around the same time, I also began eliminating eggs because I was diagnosed with a case of hand eczema, and an allergy test confirmed food sensitivity to eggs.
My husband and I have adapted recipes that use milk by substituting rice milk or soymilk for cow's milk, and we use vegan margarine instead of butter. Cheese is harder because there really is no substitute for cheese. Although I feel better not eating dairy, now that Benjamin and Elena are older, they occasionally eat cheese. Eliminating eggs has been fairly easy as there are many egg substitutes available. One of my favorites is soy lecithin or ground flax seeds. (None of these, however, will make scrambled eggs -- I've found no substitute for those!)
One concern I had with eliminating dairy from our diets was getting enough calcium to meet the recommended daily requirements. Luckily, there are other excellent sources of calcium. Some of our favorites include leafy greens (kale, spinach, and bok choy), sesame seeds or Tahini (we always have bowl of humus in our refrigerator for snacks or a light meal), almonds, and corn tortillas (made with lime). Other sources of calcium include salmon with bones, soybeans, tofu, and blackstrap molasses. If you are planning on eliminating dairy from your diet, talk with your health care provider or a nutritionist about how to get your required daily allowance of calcium.
Our Family Cookbook
I admit to being a "little-of-this, little-of-that" kind of cook, so, by default, Elena and Benjamin are learning to cook this way also. We've consulted a lot of recipe books, but we've rarely followed them step-by-step. This has its advantages and disadvantages. One of the greatest advantages is creativity -- we usually create a new recipe each time we set out on a cooking adventure. A major disadvantage has sometimes been not being able to remember what ingredients we've used in order to recreate a recipe. To remedy this, we started writing down the ingredients in our concoctions. As we cook together, we're creating a unique family cookbook that meets the dietary needs (no refined sugars, no dairy, no eggs) of our family.
Although we have many scheduled activities each week, our days are planned around our meals and cooking is usually a family event. From the time Elena and Benjamin showed an interest in cooking (both around 18 months), they have helped me prepare our meals. At first, this involved letting them stand on a stool and help measure and pour ingredients. Now that they are older, with my supervision, they each have a special place on the kitchen counter where they sit while we prepare together. Elena has learned so much that she can now instruct her father in the preparation of pies, cookies, pancakes, and much more!
We try to use organic and/or minimally processed ingredients. To achieve this, we have our own garden, shop at the local farmers' market (and talk with the farmers about their food), and frequent health food/natural food stores in our area. When we eat fish, poultry, and meat, we try to buy organic products without preservatives, antibiotics, or hormones. This way of eating is more costly than buying conventional foods, but we've solved this by eating less poultry and meat (and more beans and legumes) and using the cost savings to purchase organic ingredients.
Preparing all of your meals and creating a tailored diet for your family may seem daunting, but once my family and I got into the habit of cooking, it has become a pleasurable experience for us to enjoy together. Prepare as much ahead of time as possible. We cook for several hours on the weekend. This may seem like a lot of time, but we find it really saves us time during the busy week.
By breastfeeding, I know that I've given my children the best start in life. My husband and I can continue to influence them by setting a good example and by providing a well-balanced and varied diet of foods in as close to their natural state as possible. If I hadn't received the information and support I needed from La Leche League, I wouldn't be able to enjoy the experience of mothering through breastfeeding, as well as creating recipes and writing a cookbook with my children!
Behan, E. Eat Well, Lose Weight While Breastfeeding. New York, NY: Villard Books, 1992.
Bumgarner, N.J. MOTHERING YOUR NURSING TODDLER. Schaumburg, IL: LLLI, 2000.
Hill, D., Irene, J., and Hudson, L. et al. A low allergen diet is a significant intervention in infantile colic: Results of a community-based study. Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 1995; 96(6):886-92.
Jakobsson, I., Lindberg, T. Cow's milk proteins cause infantile colic in breast-fed infants: A double-blind crossover study. Pediatrics 1983; 71:268-71.
Mohrbacher, N. and Stock, J. THE BREASTFEEDING ANSWER BOOK. Schaumburg, IL: LLLI, 2003.
Sears, W. THE FUSSY BABY. Schaumburg, IL: LLLI, 2000.
Vonlanthen, M. Lactose intolerance, diarrhea and allergy. Breastfeeding Abstracts 1998; 18(2): 11-12.
THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING. Schaumburg, IL: LLLI, 2004.
Preparing meals doesn't have to be a chore -- it can be an adventure to find yummy recipes that suit your family's needs. Here's a sample of a daily menu in my home. I'm also including a few of our favorite original recipes (with the exception of the cookie recipe, which we modified from another recipe). We hope you enjoy them as much as we do!
This is a great breakfast cereal and a tasty snack. My children love granola, but it is expensive to buy, so it was usually a treat until we started making it ourselves. Now we can eat it every day! It is also easy to make and can be modified according to likes and diet restrictions. For example, if one is allergic to tree nuts, simply substitute a favorite dry fruit such as blueberries or strawberries. Of course, this is all an experiment until you find what works best for your taste buds.
With this recipe, children can:
Ernesto grew up eating a lot of rice and beans, and I ate a lot of beans in the eight years that I was vegetarian, so for us, eating beans is a wonderful meal. Before we had children, we soaked and cooked all our beans from scratch. With two active children, we can never remember to start the beans in the evening. We've found that canned beans make a great substitute. This way, we actually get to eat beans instead of regretting the fact that we didn't soak them!
With this recipe, children can:
My children love fish (or "shiff," as Benjamin calls it!), so we try to eat it once a week. Elena likes her fish plain or with a little salt, but the rest of us love this marinade. For Elena, we cut off a piece of plain fish and bake (or grill) it along with the marinated pieces. For now, we don't allow Benjamin and Elena to handle raw poultry, meat, or fish. There are still plenty of ways, however, that children can participate in preparing this recipe. It is important to note that pregnant and lactating women need to be careful about the types and quantities of fish they eat. The Monterey Bay Aquarium compiles a "Seafood Watch" guide, which is a good starting point for information on safe fish. See www.seafoodwatch.org.
With this recipe, children can:
My sister-in-law gave me this cookie recipe after Elena was born to alleviate my hunger pangs whenever I was nursing, but my whole family enjoys them. Sometimes Ernesto even eats them for breakfast because they are healthy and easy to grab on his way to work. (I haven't told Elena and Benjamin that their papa eats cookies for breakfast!)
With this recipe, children can: