Breastfeeding: is your child what YOU eat?

January 12, 2010

Photo by sdminor81

Photo by sdminor81

This week we’re taking a look at breastfeeding – if you are what you eat, is it the same for your child?

Part one of our series was inspired by our friend Laura, whose baby seems to have developed some kind of soy sensitivity, and it seems to be coming from breast milk after Laura eats soy-based foods. Laura isn’t vegan herself, but she’s trying to incorporate non-meat protein into her diet, which is something we want to promote.

Does breast milk contain elements of the mother’s diet? Is there anything Laura can do to mitigate this? What other weird and wonderful side effects can happen? We put the question to our Council of Vegan Parents.

As it happens, the Council didn’t have many problems with this area, but they’ve heard from others who weren’t so lucky.

While Julie didn’t have any issues with food sensitivities herself, she’s been involved with various mentoring groups over the years. From what she’s learned, soy allergies and sensitivities are very likely to co-occur with dairy allergies and sensitivities, so this could equally happen to vegans and non-vegans alike. It still sucks though, so to work around the issue Julie recommends replacing soy milk with almond, hazelnut, or hemp milk.

Elaine is our resident foster parenting expert, so she hasn’t breastfed herself, but from her research she believes that very few people are truly allergic to soy, and she recommends further testing. As she points out, many baby formulas contain soy (even milk-based ones,) and soy-based formulas are marketed for “sensitive babies.” Of course, something’s clearly going on from the reactions Laura’s seeing, so Elaine recommends soy-free vegan protein shakes such as Vega, which was designed to avoid many common allergens.

Meredith didn’t have any issues with sensitivities either but she’s got an interesting theory: “the food I ate while breastfeeding does seem to have had an impact on his eating habits; I don’t know any other 3 year olds with such an affinity for salad, garlic, eggplant, hummus, and all types of fresh fruit (most veggies too).”

On a similar note, Steph found that periods of avoiding caffeine seemed to make her son sleep better. She suggests avoiding processed foods, which she knows isn’t easy during the first few months, and for convenience, she recommends granola bars as a quick way to keep energy high and hunger low when time and sleep are at a premium. The “Enjoy LifeCocoa Loca snacks are one of several that avoid common allergens, and Steph sent a link to a list of allergy free snacks that might help:

Lastly, some words of praise and encouragement from Doh: “Breastfeeding is challenging at times, and having a little one to care for is challenging at times, so throwing a food sensitivity into the mix has got to be rough. She’s lucky that so many soy-free options are coming onto the store shelves, but I’d encourage her to look to “whole foods” such as grains and legumes and veggies. I commend her for dropping the allergen from her diet – many people don’t realize how important that is. She has the power to either prevent or establish a life-long allergy for her child, and a lot of moms don’t realize how much damage they can do by continuing to expose their baby to the suspected allergen. Others just stop breastfeeding so they can continue to eat the foods they’re accustomed to. So, kudos to her.”

From the feedback we’ve received so far, the food chain definitely adds a few links when it comes to breastfeeding, so care should be taken to maintain a balance between your favourite foods and what works best for your child.

In Laura’s particular case, how can she get enough protein in her diet without using soy products? While protein is abundant in many plant-based foods, dropping soy’s a tough one, since it’s the basis of a lot of vegan meals. As mentioned above, Vega is a great source of protein that doesn’t contain a lot of common allergens like soy, but it can be a it hard to get down if you’re not into the taste (between the hemp and the stevia, it can take some getting used to.) There are other protein powders out there that are pea, hemp, or rice based; check your local health or nutrition supplement store for details.

Powders aren’t very exciting, so for some actual meals there are two books I’d recommend, both by Vega creator Brendan Brazier: Thrive: The Vegan Nutrition Guide to Optimal Performance in Sports and Life and Thrive Fitness: The Vegan-Based Training Program for Maximum Strength, Health, and Fitness both contain a number of recipes used by high-performance atheletes that are free of many common allergens.

If you want to go your own way, and can handle wheat, vital wheat gluten is a great source. It’s available in many health, bulk, and even grocery stores, and is pretty easy to work with – a favourite around here is the chickpea cutlet recipe in Veganomicon: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook.

Other sources are quinoa, amaranth (we cook both like rice) or even simple greens, just like elephants and gorillas eat! With greens you will need to up your quantities, so in addition to big salads consider putting a few handfuls in your smoothies. I know, it sounds weird (and looks weirder!) but the taste is pretty surprising.

On Thursday, we’ll be revealing the results of our survey: how long did you breastfeed for? The answers might surprise you!

(As always, the ideas and opinions expressed here are those of the contributors and should not be construed as official medical advice. Please consult your physician for health matters, but say hi for us.)

(Photo by sdminor81)

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Dalyn January 12, 2010 at 9:02 pm

I may not be that observant, but I've found that my diet doesn't seem to matter much (and I'm crossing my fingers that it continues in this fashion). I expected that caffeine might be a problem, since I never managed to give it up while pregnant and had heard horror stories about sleep deprived moms who caffeinate and end up with wired kids, but I still drink a couple cups a day with no noticeable effect on the wee one–thankfully! And, although we consume ridiculous amounts of soy around here, I'm going to cast my vote for wheat gluten. The steamed sausage recipe that started with Julie Hassan and is all over the internets in various incarnations will satisfy and give you more protein than you need.

jasondoucette January 13, 2010 at 8:55 am

Thanks Dalyn! That steamed sausage recipe looks great:

Elaine January 14, 2010 at 6:14 pm

I forgot to mention beans and rice, duh! That's what my husband and I eat for protein when we cook (we eat out often). We like black beans and white rice, red beans and rice, lentil chili and brown rice, etc.

Elaine January 15, 2010 at 2:14 am

I forgot to mention beans and rice, duh! That's what my husband and I eat for protein when we cook (we eat out often). We like black beans and white rice, red beans and rice, lentil chili and brown rice, etc.

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