When Your Diet and Newborn Baby Just Don't Mix
Allergic colitis affects 2-3 percent of infants. As I've learned, getting this diagnosis for your little one, though, doesn't have to mean the end of breastfeeding.
When Olive was born, nearly seven weeks ago now, I let out a huge sigh of relief that she was very healthy. Her older sister’s start in this world was riddled with medical problems and scares. But my sense of relief didn’t last for too long. Once we got Olive over an initial hurdle of losing too much weight after birth, we thought we were in the clear. However, right around two weeks, my exclusively-breastfed baby began showing signs of sensitivity to my diet. With mucus in her stools, and then an appearance of blood, Olive was diagnosed with allergic colitis. It has been a roller coaster since then, as we try to figure out how to help her gut heal all the while crossing our fingers so that I can still breastfeed her.
When I first noticed the mucus, I immediately stopped consuming dairy. I knew this was the most common cause of digestive problems in babies from having to do the same for my oldest daughter, Abby. But stopping dairy didn’t help Olive’s stool as it did for Abby, whose digestive system just needed to mature a bit.
Once we saw blood in Olive’s diaper a little less than a week later, I quickly took her in to see the doctor, where we were given the diagnosis of allergic colitis and I was urged to remove several other foods from my diet. We were also given a referral to see a gastroenterology specialist. But until I could be seen, I was advised not to eat dairy, soy, nuts, eggs, fish and shellfish. Though this type of colitis is mostly associated with cow’s milk protein, these other foods are known to be culprits as well.
That’s a pretty restrictive diet, yet there was no question about it. I would do everything I could to be able to breastfeed Olive and help her belly heal. But even as I dropped each of these foods and obsessed over reading labels, Olive’s condition didn’t improve. My worries grew as I turned to the Internet, from people saying it would take just a few days for it to clear up while others said three to four weeks. All I knew, though, was that she wasn’t getting better and I was afraid I wouldn’t get to have the successful breastfeeding experience I’d so desperately hoped for.
I kept breastfeeding her, despite continual evidence that her colon was still struggling. My pediatrician gave me the go ahead and even referred me to a GI doctor, who is a huge proponent of the breastfeeding mom and works very hard with patients to allow nursing to continue.
For three weeks, I continued reading and researching as much as I could about allergic colitis. For most children, it could take them up to a year to get over these allergies, and some moms even had to remove beef from their diets. I was ready to give this up too. I’d do anything for the health of my daughter. ANYTHING.
I also read about moms giving up breastfeeding. It was too much for them to be on such a restrictive diet. Too much stress, really. Plus there are the babies who have this type of colitis to the point of only passing clear mucus, so severe that moms were told by doctors they had to stop. I knew if it got to that point, I would totally stop, but I was still optimistic.
Through this whole ordeal, Olive’s temperament didn’t stray from that of a typical newborn. She cried when she was hungry or needed a diaper change. If she just wanted extra snuggles from mom, she would be a bit fussy. But I had never seen her show any sign of inconsolable pain. This was where my hope lay.
Over those three weeks I had to wait to see the specialist, I didn’t see much of an improvement. And even though blood was not visibly seen in her stools, it tested positive for having microscopic traces. This made me sad, but I kept trudging along with my label-reading and dietary changes.
Ironically, just yesterday, the day before the appointment with the GI doctor, her stools went back to normal. Every single one of them for the past 24 hours was normal. It was the best report I was able to give the doctor today. All of the careful steps I’ve been taking with my own diet finally paid off.
I was advised that when she turns 6 months old I’d be able to introduce one food back into my diet at a time to see how she tolerates it–an elimination diet, if you will. And what’s even better is that I get to have soy right away as it’s generally not associated with allergic colitis. I totally celebrated with a giant soy chai from Starbucks on our way home!
The best part about this whole experience, though, was when the specialist told me that I was doing everything right. It was just so amazing to hear him say, “You’re doing a great job!” In fact, Olive is doing so well that there is no need to return to him for a follow up–only if we see blood in her stool again. As a parent you doubt yourself a lot, and I surely have made huge mistakes along the way. It takes a long time to get over those blunders, and you never seem to forget them. But I walked away feeling very proud as a parent. Because I’m doing right by my daughter, and that’s what matters.
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