If you have a reflux baby and you’ve decided to go down the route of investigating possible food intolerances through an elimination diet you will need all the support you can get. It is a long, hard road and friends and family just do not understand how hard it is nor how strict you have to be. It’s not like going on a diet to lose weight, where you can have the odd piece of chocolate and get back on the wagon tomorrow. If you’re doing this for your baby then the tiniest slip-up can leave you with 24 hours of no sleep and tinnitus from the screaming.
Essentially, you have to remove all the likely offending foods from baby’s diet until you get to ‘baseline’ or a symptom-free baby. Most commonly, all traces of dairy and soy are eliminated from the diet for between two and three weeks. This means watching their nappies carefully until most or all of the mucous is gone. Stools have a lag effect because mucous is a symptom of gut damage and this takes time to heal. After this time the baby should become markedly more settled and the persistence of mucous in stools should start easing. Once your baby has been at baseline for two weeks you can start to very gradually reintroduce foods until you’ve identified the culprits. If baby reacts to something, remove the food from your diet again and wait several days before trying a different food. If symptoms do not settle within a reasonable timeframe you could then embark on a full elimination diet removing all allergy causing foods and/or food chemicals.
There are many different elimination diets out there. When I first set down this path I followed the Dr Sears Elimination Diet, which basically consists of eating nothing but pears, potatoes, sweet potatoes and rice for two weeks. I followed it pretty religiously, except that I also ate zucchini. I noticed after two weeks that Ada’s symptoms had improved dramatically. She was so peaceful! The only problem was that I was literally starving to death and if I had to eat another lamb chop I was going to hurt somebody. So I chucked in the towel and went back to eating everything except dairy. This was a huge mistake because I very quickly undid all of my hard work and went back to having a super cranky baby all over again!
The second elimination diet I tried was the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital Failsafe Diet. This one was developed by allergists at a leading hospital in Sydney, Australia and is accompanied by a handbook and a cookbook. It is also the one that accredited practising dieticians and nutritionists (in Australia) are familiar with, so you’re more likely to get support from health professionals to follow it.
I followed this one strictly for two weeks, and while we didn’t get the same reduction in symptoms as with the Dr Sears diet I was a much happier mama for having a little variety in my diet. Because it was more sustainable I was able to stick it out for 10 months, during which time I gradually reintroduced foods into my diet until we had narrowed A’s intolerances down to dairy, soy, wheat and egg. As you can imagine I wasn’t left with a huge range of food choices and I ended up eating a lot of meat, fruit and vegetables! I also lost 24 kilos but that most certainly was not my motivation.
During this time we also commenced solids with A, which is a separate story (coming soon!)
As an aside, ‘all traces of dairy’ literally means just that – check packets for the words ‘contains milk‘, do not eat things which have been baked with milk, do not eat things that might even contain the barest smidgen of cow’s milk protein. So many people fail with the elimination diet because they didn’t realise they couldn’t just cut out their usual cappuccino and yoghurt and everything would be fine.
I would love to hear from anyone who’s been through an elimination diet for their baby. Please post your experience below and your best tips for any mamas considering attempting it!