Q&A: something bothering 6-week-old

Erin writes:

"You may have already addressed this, but if not - could I be eating something that is passing into my milk and upsetting the baby's stomach? The backstory: my second daughter (almost 6 weeks) was the calmest, happiest, most placid baby I'd ever seen. Then, in the last day or two, she has turned very fussy all of a sudden. Very unlike her, and it looks to me like she is very uncomfortable - kicking, flailing, needing constant holding, etc. Could I have eaten something that is bothering her? What should I try cutting out to find the culprit? I did some research myself, and I saw dairy, wheat, eggs, caffeine, garlic, and about a million other things listed as possible irritants. Do I need to cut out everything to figure this out? Did this ever happen with the boys? If so, what was the trigger food?

Or could she just be having a bad day?"

Oh, yeah. Right around week 6 with both my boys I was convinced there was something I was eating that they were reacting badly to. With my first son I went on an elimination diet for a week, and ate nothing but chicken (with fennel seed for its gas-combatting properties), sweet potatoes, rice, and apples. No change, so I went back to ice cream and garlic (not together), and the uncomfortableness seemed to go away anyway around 8-9 weeks. With my second, I cut out dairy for a few days and saw no change, so I just waited it out and at about 8 weeks it calmed down.

I think there could be one or more of the following things going on with your daughter:

1. She could be going through a digestive blip. A friend of mine who works as a postpartum doula (she goes for a few hours every other day or so to cook and clean and give moral support to new moms) says she thinks most babies go through some sort of digestive system blip or spurt around 6 weeks. She reports that almost every baby she's worked with has been fussy and seemed to have tummy troubles right around then, and then within a week or two they just seem to resolve, whether the mother is nursing or feeding formula or giving Mylecon or gripe water or whatever. Which may be its own thing, or may actually be because...

2. She could be going through a developmental spurt. According to The Wonder Weeks, there's a spurt right around week 8, which would mean she's in the cranky phase gearing up for it right now. That would explain the need for constant holding for sure, and probably the fussiness, too.

3. She could be feeling gassy or uncomfortable from something you're eating. I wouldn't necessarily recommend going completely off everything like I did (chicken with fennel seeds is delicious the first two meals, but then loses appeal quickly), but you might try cutting out a couple of things to see if there's any difference. If I had to pick the most likely culprits I'd pick dairy and maybe wheat (if you can take cutting out both at the same time), and I'd also cut out cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts) because you probably won't miss them for a week or two and they do seem to cause gas in even the most goatlike of babies. Give it 5 or 6  days and see if there's any difference. If not, then go back on those foods and try cutting others out. It maybe resolve itself anyway. If you do see a difference, they stay off those foods for a few weeks, then try reintroducing a small amount to your diet to see what happens.

From what I've heard and seen, when your child is having a problem with something you're eating it's pretty obvious. Intolerance to dairy usually manifests itself as being fine during a feed but then painful, inconsolable screaming about 20 minutes later. The only food problems I've had have been the cruciferous vegetable kind, which resulted in painful, machinegun farts (in the baby, not me) for 36 hours after I ate the offending broccoli. Also, if your kid was perfectly fine one day and then really crazy the next, look at what you ate and see if there's anything totally different. You honestly never know what's up with these babies, so who knows if one mini-peanut butter cup or a diet soda with aspartame or a handful of edamame could cause horrible screaming and gas? Might as well avoid the anomalous food for a couple of weeks, just to be safe.

If your baby is having problems latching on and screams from hunger but then won't latch, she may be too gassy to latch (and needs to be burped), or the milk flow might be too forceful. My second son went through a couple of weeks of this. I never did figure out which one it was, because I came up with a position that alleviated both potential problems. What I did was feed him while I was reclining on the couch. I'd put him lying on his tummy across my body so his own body weight would put pressure on his stomach while he nursed, and gravity would prevent my milk flow from being too strong. Kellymom.com has a lot more on fussiness at the breast.

Erin, I think your specific baby is going through a developmental spurt, or you just ate something she didn't like that one time, but it isn't indicative of a consistent problem. So I'm going to fall back on that old joke: "Doctor, it hurts when I put my leg like this." "So don't put your leg like that." If you can determine what thing(s) you ate a few hours before she started wigging out, just avoid that for a few weeks and don't let the "what if my child has food sensitivities" bird whisper in your ear just yet.