Thursday, June 14, 2012

Breastfeeding a baby with food allergies - a survival guide

My very first guest post!

I met Nicole Derr of NMD Photography and her adorable daughter Addison at a Mommy & Me group at the Noggin Factory in Dover in 2011.  As time passed, I admired her strength and determination to do what was best for her daughter.  I asked her to share her story of breastfeeding a baby with severe food allergies in the hopes that her story would help and inspire other new moms!


I Survived, and You Can Too!

I’ve been staring at this jar of Nutella for 15 months now, and tomorrow, I am finally going to open the darn thing up and dig in. Perhaps only the arrival of our daughter, Addison, has been met with more anticipation.

I’m here to attest to the fact that indeed, a desperate chocoholic like myself can in fact make The Ultimate Sacrifice for her child, every single day for said 15 months.

Here’s the backstory: (If you want the short version, just skip down to the Survival Food List and Survival Strategy List!) We welcomed Addison into the world on January 8th of 2011. Aside from being the World’s Most Beautiful Baby, she was such a dream at first; she was all cuddly and would nap for hours on our chests, and make these adorable little satisfied noises when she nursed. And then one night after a week or two, she cried inconsolably for two hours straight. And then the next night she cried for three hours. And then she started crying, at top volume, for hours, at any time of the day or
night. Being a first time mom, I was horrified and overwhelmed but folks kept telling me that it was common for babies to be “fussy” at night. The pediatrician said she was just fine. She just has a lot of gas. I should try to relax.

Addison’s screaming wasn’t fussing. It didn’t wind up gradually and peak and then die down. She would be sleeping soundly and awake with a start and a shrill shriek and then nothing-- not nursing, not Colic Calm, not bouncing, or swinging or swaddling or promising to buy her a unicorn would calm her. To me, it was clear that she was in pain.

And I felt utterly powerless to help her.

One day when Addison was four weeks old, a friend came over with her three month old. I absolutely couldn’t get my mind around the fact that her baby didn’t cry (beyond fussing to nurse) for the entire two hour visit. The whole time! Meanwhile Addie was having a particularly bad day and maybe stopped crying for 20 minutes of their visit. I decided to take matters into my own hands. I did some research and decided to go on a total elimination diet to figure out once and for all if Addison’s pain was being caused by something I was eating. I just didn’t buy it that one month old babies were typically this unhappy, or had diapers full of mucousy poop, or projectile vomited on a daily basis.

Eliminating all potential allergenic foods pretty much leaves you with meat, rice, vegetables and some fruit. I was a woman on a mission. I didn’t even use salt and pepper. I was totally clueless. And starving.

I figured it would just be for a week, just to see. No change. Ok two more days. Nothing.

Finally one day she had a poop that showed some flecks of blood, and at last our pediatrician began taking me seriously and scheduled an appointment for the next morning. The tested the stool and turns out it was chock full of blood. Digested blood is green. So my girl’s intestines were so irritated that they were bleeding and she was pooping it all out. Odd as it sounds, this was a relief for me: at last we are going to get somewhere with this and she is going to feel better. After having me collect her stool--
and enduring her pain-- for a week (I’ll leave the details of how to collect diariaah from a diaper to your imagination, and tell you only that it involves saran wrap and popsicle sticks) they finally referred us to a Pediatric GI specialist.

We drove out to Manchester to hear some pretty simple news: she definitely has a protein allergy. It is either dairy, soy or egg. Stop eating those and she will get better. Come back in three months. Nothing else you eat will have an effect or her. The reaction to these proteins builds up over time in the gut, so it’s not like giving them up for a week or two will have much difference. It has to be for good. (“For Good,” I thought, at this point, was until our recheck at 5 months). This was great news because
there were so many things that I could add back in, with wheat being the saving grace. However after the initial euphoria of eating bread wore off (bakery bread sans soy of course)... we were left with a major challenge.

I thank my lucky stars that my husband is so supportive of breastfeeding, and also that he’s such a good cook.(He’s the chef in our house, and I clean). While he didn’t have to live without butter, or cheese, or basically anything that comes in a box or a wrapper, he has gone to the end of the Earth to make my food life bearable. Prepared meals of quinoa, spinach and chicken in the fridge for my lunch. Pasta separated for me with my “special” butter on it. Bags of the “special” chocolate chips. It took us a while to compile the list of must have items for this diet, and once we got those staples, it was
really quite bearable. At home, except when I caught a glance of the dreaded Nutella jar, I rarely felt deprived.

Survival Food List:

Hannaford store brand bagels (select flavors only are soy free-- plain, multigrain,
sesame), Hannaford brand pizza dough- (You can make a decent cheese free calzone
with said dough. My fav was chicken and pesto), and Hannaford brand Stoned Wheat
Thin crackers
Enjoy Life chocolate (the dark is not half bad. The milk tastes like cardboard. I may
recant the “half bad” once I eat real chocolate again, but to me, it now passes as
Earth’s Best Soy Free Spread (find it at Market Basket or Wal-Mart)

Almond milk
Quinoa, rice, most pastas
Coconut milk ice cream (chocolate or vanilla. The others have soy). Try with fresh fruit
or with maple syrup on top.

Follow that with the Survival Strategy List:

Trust your Mother Instinct, even if you’re a first time mom. Get a second opinion.
Read labels like a psycho person and don’t necessarily believe people when they tell you something is dairy/soy/egg free. (Not on purpose, but people don’t realize the many forms that these ingredients can take, and that they’re in nearly everything. They also don’t realize that one bite of something with butter, for example, will have your baby up crying all night).
Avoid parties and gatherings where food is the center of activity. These will leave you feeling deprived, jealous, and bitter.
Find support. Friends, husband, a doula.
Figure out foods that still feel like “treats” and eat them regularly to keep from feeling like binging. You may have to shell out more money (ie coconut ice cream) but this is the key to keeping on.
Figure out dates with your spouse that don’t involve food. (This is no small feat. Everything seems to involve food).
Keep emergency snacks in your diaper bag since you can’t stop for a quick bite.
Remind yourself how lucky you are that your baby’s pain can be solved without medical
intervention, and think of this as a way that you can take care of them.
Remind yourself that this is not forever.
Remind yourself that hypoallergenic formula costs a fortune, smells like butt, and is mostly high fructose corn syrup. Not an option.

Now, Addison is 17 months old, and fully weaned as of last week. I came downstairs from putting her to bed without nursing, bawled in my husband’s arms for a few minutes, and then promptly dove in to eating a key lime pie complete with store bought crust.

The best part of the diet: the total awe and appreciation for food that comes when it’s over! And the weirdest part? It’s been over a week now... and I haven’t had a single bite of chocolate. I guess the hiatus curbed my cravings. But knowing that I CAN dip into that Nutella whenever it strikes my fancy? Priceless.

UPDATE:  Nicole just welcomed baby #2!  See the adorable photos here!

Nicole is the owner of NMD Photography.  Check out her work at

Do you need support around dealing with a baby with food allergies?  Dover Doula ( provides help with breastfeeding and postpartum doula services.  

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