Written by Stacy Spensley
The last thing you want to hear as a breastfeeding mom is that you can't eat something. You probably want to eat everything! You're legitimately eating for two right now.
But if your baby is showing symptoms of a reaction to something in your diet, you're also probably willing to do anything to make it better. Dietary changes are tough, especially on top of being a new mom, but here are some tips that can help make the process easier.
While there are several common foods that can prompt an elimination diet, today we'll start with gluten. It's a bit of a buzzword nowadays, but it's more than a weight loss trend. Gluten can be tough on your baby's tummy.
WHAT IS GLUTEN?
Gluten is simply the protein found in wheat and other grains than can cause inflammation. Note that the root of gluten is "glue," and that's no accident. Gluten is what makes bread dough stretchy and elastic.
When moms eliminate gluten from their diets, many see results in a week or two, but some may take longer. Eating "limited" gluten won't make a difference - if it is affecting your baby’s digestive system, it really has to be all cut out to make sure.
WHAT CONTAINS GLUTEN?
The big one is wheat - all varieties. In addition, wheatberries, durum, emmer, spelt, semolina, farina, farro, graham, Kamut, einkorn, rye, barley, triticale, malt, and brewer's yeast. Cross-contamination can also be an issue, especially with oats. It's recommended to avoid bulk bins in case of cross-contamination and to look for certified, tested gluten-free products.
The major categories of gluten-containing foods are bread, pastry, pasta, crackers, baked goods, breading/batter for frying, roux-based soups, sauces and gravies, flour tortillas, and beer. Other less obvious foods are soy sauce and sushi, pre-seasoned meat, salad dressings and marinades (often wheat is used as a thickener), seasoned potato chips, granola or energy bars, and some candy.
The Celiac Disease Foundation has a more in-depth list and a longer explanation of cross-contamination if you're interested.
Does that sound like every food ever? I promise it isn't.
SO WHAT CAN I EAT?
Fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy, beans, legumes, and nuts, and other grains are all naturally gluten-free. If you buy prepared versions you should check labels, but the plain versions are safe.
Which grains and flours specifically are OK? Rice, cassava, corn, soy, potato, tapioca, beans, sorghum, quinoa, millet, buckwheat (also called kasha), arrowroot, amaranth, teff, flax, chia, yucca, nut flours, and gluten-free oats.
The safest bet is usually cooking from whole ingredients. But you also have a newborn, and you're hungry. The upside to the gluten-free trend is that there are also tons of gluten-free products on the shelves, and many restaurants actually have a gluten-free menu, or note gluten-free dishes to make it easier for you.
HOW DO I GET STARTED?
First, make a list of all the things you already eat that are gluten-free. Then you have a foundation for some familiar meals to cycle through.
Next, check your cupboards to see what you can't eat. Some people find it easier for their whole family to go gluten-free to avoid cross-contamination (think toast crumbs in the butter, or dipping crackers straight into the hummus). Read labels carefully.
Many people find it less overwhelming to start with substitutes. Switch to gluten-free pasta, gluten-free cereal, gluten-free pizza crust, gluten-free sandwich bread, there are even gluten-free bagels. The downside is that they do cost more, but sometimes mama needs a (gluten-free) cookie. It's a tradeoff.
Another approach is just to avoid dishes that are normally wheat-based. If you normally have cereal for breakfast, have eggs or a smoothie. Instead of a sandwich for lunch, have soup and a salad (no croutons!). Try polenta instead of pasta.
For most people, something in the middle works well. If you really want pizza, splurge on gluten-free crust and feel like a relatively normal person. Most GF sandwich bread isn't great, so finding an alternative may be better than feeling disappointed (especially at $7 a loaf). Most gluten-free flour blends also contain binders like xanthan and guar gums which aren't inherently bad, but can upset some people's stomachs.
WHAT ARE SOME COMMON MISTAKES?
At home, make sure you have a gluten-free prep area. Toasters are a major source of cross-contamination. It's not like it will kill you, but you don't know how much contamination it takes to affect your baby. If the rest of your family still eats gluten, you can't share a jar of peanut butter. Either scoop out a portion before spreading on anything, or get your own jars and label them clearly.
At restaurants, don't be afraid to ask about gluten-free options from the start. There can be hidden ingredients in many sauces and marinades that you don't expect. Or seek out restaurants that advertise GF options to make it easier on yourself.
Don't give up too soon. Like I mentioned above, it can take several weeks for the gluten to completely clear your system, but that doesn't mean it's not making a difference.
BUT HOW DO I MAKE IT THROUGH A WHOLE WEEK?
Again, Celiac Disease Foundation to the rescue with a 7-day gluten-free meal plan.
I highly recommend meal planning. You can download a weekly menu planning template here. For recipes, Pinterest is an amazing resource, and the app is easy to use on your phone while you're nursing. I have several boards full of gluten-free recipe ideas.
Just having a roster of recipes can make a difference. Then you have a gluten-free menu to choose from when planning your meals. I even make a list of snacks so if I get hungry I don't even have to think. Stocking your pantry and fridge with foods you can actually eat makes the experience much easier.
A FEW MEAL IDEAS
Here are some basics for each meal to give you some ideas.
Breakfast: scrambled eggs or an omelet, green smoothies, GF oatmeal, breakfast hash, chia pudding parfait
Lunch: soup and salad, tacos (corn tortillas), GF pasta, lettuce wraps, quinoa salad
Dinner: "Paleo-style" burgers (no bun, just wrapped in lettuce) with fries, stir-fry with gluten-free soy sauce, burrito bowls, polenta with roasted veggies, grilled chicken or fish with veggies and rice
Snacks: trail mix, fresh fruit, carrots and GF crackers with hummus, hard boiled eggs, yogurt with fruit
It's a big change, but it IS possible! I hope this helps make the transition easier for you and your baby.
Stacy Spensley is a healthy life coach and semi-crunchy mama. She works with new moms and dads through classes and coaching to normalize the parenting experience so they feel more confident making parenting decisions and maintain their sanity while keeping everyone alive. She also helps families create meal plans when they have to incorporate an elimination diet. Her friends would tell you she's bossy in the best way. Folding laundry is her least favorite activity. If you're a semi-crunchy mama, click here join the club and learn more.