Imagine my dismay when, as a new momma and long-avowed foodie, I learned that my son has food intolerances. A food intolerance is different than an allergy in that it is temporary and more of an irritant to the digestive system, rather than something that causes a severe reaction.
As a breastfeeding momma, the only way to determine a food intolerance and solve the irritation is to go on an elimination diet to determine the trigger food(s), and stop eating it/them altogether. By eliminating potential intolerances from my diet, my son will no longer ingest them via my breastmilk, and in about a month his digestive system should be clear of whatever food that is bothering him.
My understanding is that dairy and soy are at the top of the list, followed by other top allergenic foods such as eggs, nuts, seafood, etc. So, of course I’ve cut all of this out of my diet and then some, just to be sure we solve this issue. Casting a wide net seems like the best approach here, because it’s highly likely that whatever food is bothering him is disrupting his ability to sleep well—and lord knows this momma could use some more sleep after 4.5 months and counting of sleeping in 1-2 hour stretches at night, and catnapping with the baby during the day.
In an attempt to “clean” my breastmilk of allergens and help my son feel and sleep better, I’ve begun living by the Auto Immune Protocol (AIP). This diet, or rather lifestyle, is intense. The AIP is essentially the Paleo diet but even more strict—I’ve also had to remove fish, nuts and eggs as well, because they are top allergens. As a foodie, you can understand my shock in having to live by such a strict diet regime, literally cutting out everything besides fruit, vegetables and meat. It has changed our lives drastically, from how we shop to how much money we spend on groceries to what we plant in our garden, and fully restricted us from eating out. This is just about as intense as it gets for a foodie like me. Not being able to eat out ever is killer. And in fact, I learned the hard way by going out once when I was 2.5 weeks into this diet regime and backslid by accidentally eating a lunch that had dairy in it—boy did I pay for it the next couple days when my son very clearly reacted negatively. Having to hit the reset button and start over in my month-long cleanse countdown was devastating. Lesson learned—no eating out. (Happy to report I am now 2 weeks "clean" on AIP again with no intention of eating out anytime soon. And at least now I know dairy is a major trigger food!)
This drastic shift in my lifestyle has been a challenge for me, because so much of my identity is wrapped up in food and drink. I’ve never lived a life with a restricted diet and it’s hard cooking restricted meals for myself every day. At first, I wasn’t very creative and was making simple dishes, but then I got bored and started to do some research.
I've got a couple cookbooks from the library and Pinterest recipes by my side now, and I’ve taken it upon myself to try and make some delicious dishes—despite all the restrictions. Let me first say that coconut is a lifeline! I use the milk for sauces/bases and the flakes for crunchy toppings. And I’ve learned to get creative with ingredients I’ve never really thought about combining—like apple slices as a burger "bun".
I make a “yogurt” for breakfast out of avocado, mango, strawberries and spinach, with a splash of coconut milk. It’s absolutely delicious, and when topped with fruit and toasted coconut flakes, it mimics a yogurt and granola combo quite well! For smoothies I use frozen bananas as a thickener and opt for coconut milk in lieu of any dairy. For lunch I’m mostly enjoying salads with a ton of raw veggies and grilled chicken on top, or for a quick-fix lunch my go-to is chicken sausage and avocado slices. For dinners, I’ve made a few soups/stews, but generally just cook up a cut of meat and make a side of veggies and/or salad. I’m still looking to expand more for dinners, but it can be tough to spend time scouring recipes when I’ve got a 4.5 month-old demanding every moment of my attention.
As I continue on my AIP journey, I'll be sharing my experiences and recipes. Below is my very-own green breakfast smoothie recipe!
I've been wanting to write this first post for months now, but of course I didn't anticipate just how much I'd have my hands full and I honestly haven't had a moment to spare. Today is the first day of my husband's summer vacation (he's a teacher) and right now, he is napping with our son—so here I am, ready to reflect on the past four months of motherhood.
Motherhood is equally as wonderful and exhausting as I anticipated it would be, and then some. Before my son was born, I thought about all of the fun things we would do together and how I was going to write about all of our amazing experiences, but the reality hasn't been anything like that. In fact, we haven't gotten to do too many "fun" things because he has been a very challenging baby. At 8 weeks old, we discovered he has acid reflux—a problem that afflicts many babies—and then at around 13 weeks we started to suspect he also has food intolerances/allergies. All of this is to say that when he was finally 8 weeks old and I felt more comfortable going places and doing things, is the exact time when he became increasingly difficult.
From around 8 weeks, he hated the car and would scream uncontrollably in his car seat while we drove. He also hated the stroller (which wasn't a surprise because it was the same infant car seat being used). He also hated the baby carrier. This essentially rendered us completely immobile. For the past two months, we've spent most of our time at home, because I couldn't bear to put him in the car and listen to him cry. I tried to go on walks, but we never made it very far before he would have a meltdown. He does enjoy being outside, so at most we would spend time in our backyard.
Today, he is two days away from being four months old. We have seen minor improvements in these major issues over the last ten days, because I began a very strict diet regime in order to rid my body and his of the potential allergen foods that he's been receiving through my breast milk. I've still got a few more weeks to go before we should see major improvements, and at that point I can slowly add one food item back into my diet each week to see what he reacts to. When he does have a reaction, I'll know to mark that food as an allergen and avoid it all together.
In a food allergy/intolerance situation, many moms resort to giving their baby formula. Because this is not something I am interested in (no judgment for those who use formula!), the elimination diet is the only way to solve this problem. It's intense and I've taken the most extreme approach and adopted the AutoImmune Protocol (AIP) as my diet—which essentially means I am only allowed to eat certain vegetables, all meats (preferably grass-fed) and all fruit. As a foodie, I am sure you can imagine this was (and still is!) a bit of a shock to my system and to my lifestyle. This means I can't really dine out in confidence (think about trying to ask a waiter if they have any dairy/soy/gluten/nut/bean/fish/etc.-free meals!), and I can't eat some of my favorite food groups. While this is absolutely the most challenging diet I have ever been on, I am motivated to stick with it as long as I have to in order to see improvements in my son's comfortably and behavior. He doesn't deserve to be uncomfortable or in pain. So much of this blog will outline my life on AIP, recipes I discover along the way, and our experience in eliminating food allergies.
On another note, my son is the world's worst sleeper. I know babies struggle to differentiate between day/night in the beginning, and wake to nurse frequently for a while, but I've also learned that around 4 months (minus the whole "sleep regression"), that babies are usually sleeping pretty well at night. Not us. He is still waking every 1-2 hours at night on most nights. A good night might have a 3-hour stretch at the very beginning, but those are incredibly rare. And what's more, is that he outgrew his bassinet (which he only mildly tolerated), but still won't sleep in his crib… so we've had to co-sleep with him in our bed for the past month. This is not ideal and was definitely not part of our "plan." The part about co-sleeping that bothers me the most is that it isn't even improving his sleep—and generally, that is the one thing that helps most babies sleep better when all else fails. Although I have to admit, I've grown accustomed to his tiny warm body in bed next to mine and his tiny, pudgy hands reaching out to make sure I'm still right there.
So here we are with a baby who won't sleep well at night and I'm totally sleep deprived. I haven't had a REM cycle since he was born. On some days, I honestly don't know how I'm alive. During the day, he refuses to be put down for naps, so we just hold him, for fear of him not getting any rest during the day if we keep trying to lay him down. I tell myself his clinginess is just a phase and that eventually he'll let us put him in the crib for naps and bedtime, but I'm not sure I believe it. Part of me feels like this is just how it's going to be for a very long time, and another part of me wants to believe that maybe it's all a result of his uncomfortableness from reflux and food allergies. Only time will tell, but what if it's not? That is my biggest fear—us getting to the end of the allergy situation and his sleep not improving. What if I'm just destined to never sleep more than a couple hours at a time until my son is a year old? (Those who've told me they had horrible sleepers said a year is about when they "grew" out of it.) Or worse, what if it even continues beyond a year?
While I never dreamed that writing about my son and being a momma was going to include health issues like acid reflux and food allergies, this is my reality. This blog is not destined to be a picturesque vision of momma life. Instead, it is going to be a realistic account of being a first time momma with a very challenging baby. The ups and downs. The troubleshooting. The rough, sleepless nights. The planning my life around this baby because he refuses to nurse or nap outside of our house. The struggles of living on such an intense elimination diet. And of course, the smiles, giggles, "firsts," hugs, kisses and snuggles that make it all worth it.