99 Problems

Published on April 17th, 2014 | by Shannon Keough


Shannon Keough SAYS NO TO THE DIET

I recently had a second baby, and this time around I decided to go wild and splurge on a home health visit from a nurse a few days after we got home from the hospital. It sounded like a good idea–a medical professional stopping by to check on my boy’s traumatized head (courtesy of the obstetric vacuum) and to evaluate just how far down the postpartum depression hole I might be sinking. Insurance was going to cover thirty percent!

“Connie,” a neat and tidy nurse who appeared to be in her late fifties, showed up at my door on a Monday morning. I immediately tuned in to her judgmental aura–I live in a house that could be politely referred to as “pleasantly cluttered.” I should probably have a magnet on my refrigerator that says, “A Clean House is a Sign of a Wasted Life.”

I tried to smooth things over with an “I know what you must be thinking” greeting.

“I’d apologize for my trashed house,” I said, “but I’m sure you hear that all the time, right?”

“Well, I’m here to check on you and your baby, not your house,” she said with a pinched smile.

I invited her to sit on my (cat hair-infested) couch and we started to discuss my new-baby situation. We got to chatting, and I eventually mentioned the fact that Lydia, my first child, had been an insanely colicky baby. Connie suddenly looked very empathetic, even brushing away a (fake?) tear.

“Oh Shannon,” she said.

She went on to explain that she too had had a colicky baby, but it was back in the day when no one knew why babies were colicky.

“I’ve made it my mission to do whatever I can to help parents with colicky babies,” she said.

I got excited. I too have heard the siren call to “do something” to help other parents with colicky babies. For example, when I was up at 4:00 am with Lydia, bouncing her madly while she screamed and flailed, I often wished there was something for all the hapless parents like me. Ideally a free nursery where you could drop off your screamer for a couple hours (to be cared for by kind people who would not shake her) while you slept or had a drink in a soundproof room. Perhaps she had something like that in mind?

But no, that wasn’t what she had in mind.

“Research has shown that most fussiness in babies can be traced to the mother’s diet,” she told me. (Obviously this is only relevant to breastfed babies.) “If Felix gets fussy the way Lydia was, I encourage you to try an elimination diet.” She then went on to write down a list of the foods I should be prepared to eliminate for a minimum of ten days–dairy products, eggs, fish, nuts, citrus, soy and wheat.

I was familiar with this philosophy. But I wonder if any of the professionals who suggest this approach have actually tried a severe elimination diet while dealing with a colicky newborn? Scientific proof or not (and I think the jury is still out on the scientific evidence, despite what some people insist), what new mother has the fortitude to undertake this kind of masochistic intervention while her baby screams nonstop around the clock?


Actually, according to the online motherhood forums and my own experience, quite a few mothers. The first time around I was so desperate to “cure” my daughter’s screaminess that I was willing to try anything. The baby chiropractor we visited determined (through some brand of “energy work”) that Lydia was allergic to my breast milk, but was quick to tell me not to stop breastfeeding. Instead, I was to immediately eliminate wheat, soy and dairy from my diet.

I took her advice, and kept it up for about two days, at which point I broke the fast with a giant pizza because I was super hungry from only eating rice and steamed vegetables.

I think Connie noticed my look of irritation, despite my attempt to maintain a bland expression.

“Of course, it’s always the mother’s fault,” I said.

She quickly changed the subject. “Let’s look at your son…we’re running out of time.”

I realize she might have a point–everyone might have a point. I bet they’re right: that tofu-and-tilapia sandwich is surely the secret culprit behind your average baby’s all-night screaming. But I also know our culture’s current obsession with all things food-related, and the belief that almost everything can be “cured” with a dietary adjustment. Even more than that, I know from personal experience how quick people are to lump all the blame–for “fussiness,” illness, obesity and more–on possibly inconsequential decisions made by parents.

“If it comes to that diet,” I said, “I’m switching to formula.”

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About the Author

Shannon Keough makes her living writing about heat pumps, cheese and prenatal care. She has a column for Minnesota Parent and occasionally writes something on her blog, Don’t Knock it Till You Try It. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband Nick and their two little kids, Lydia and Felix

7 Responses to Shannon Keough SAYS NO TO THE DIET

  1. jk says:

    thanks so much for writing this. when i had a colicky baby, 1000000 “helpful” people told me to eliminate dairy. i am a vegetarian, breastfeeding twins. there is no way for me to eat enough calories and fat if i eliminate dairy! i would wearily tell them that research has shown that less than 10% of babies are helped by dairy elimination, so there was a greater than 90% chance that it would not help. i feel like a crazy person for being so skeptical of a world that puts such a tremendous burden on the nursing mother. it’s like the naturopath who told my breastfeeding friend that her baby’s swollen face was caused by the mother’s allergies and she should do more to get them under control. wtf, people.

    • Shannon Keough says:

      Thanks for reading, jk! I know…I feel like there’s so much pressure to breastfeed in the first place, and then on top of that there’s this expectation that you’d better do it “right” (eliminate certain foods, avoid caffeine and alcohol, etc.). I think there’s such a creepy cultural thing going that immediately focuses on the mother as the cause of anything and everything that goes wrong (a colicky newborn, a swollen face, etc.).

  2. heidi says:

    here here!!!!

  3. M says:

    About the messy house – the midwives at our centre told us that if the house is too clean when they visit they take it as a sign that the new parent(s) aren’t resting enough.

  4. Beth says:

    Thanks for this! I am fascinated with the “scientific” theories about what pregnant and nursing mothers should and should not be eating. Except when I am actually pregnant or nursing, in which case I am alternately furious, paranoid, guilty, and sobbing over the “scientific” theories about what pregnant and nursing mothers should and should not be eating. I hope your (adorable) second steers clear of the colic, and that NoDairyNoWheat’s suggestions will not have to take up a single cell in your head!

    • Shannon Keough says:

      Thanks for reading, Beth! And sorry I didn’t respond sooner, but I was too busy eliminating all the joy from my daily diet!!! Just kidding. Yeah, all the “scientific” evidence about what pregnant and breastfeeding women should or should not be eating just doesn’t sit right with me. I realize there might be something to it in some cases, but in general it just strikes me as another way to police women’s bodies and choices and to encourage mothers to feel guilty about something all the time.

      • Beth says:

        Definitely, policing bodies. But also, the rules just don’t make sense. The Dr. tells you not to eat cold cuts but doesn’t mention prepared salads or other premade foods which are WAY more at risk for listeria. I was trying to get a straight answer about what was okay to eat for lunch and couldn’t figure out for the life of me the logic behind the rules. The sushi stuff is crazy too. Hope you’re sneaking in some delicious stuff!

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