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Sleepless babies and diet


My baby was waking at least five times every night … I gave her some paracetamol and took her into a warm bath with me. Afterwards, I lay her on my bed while I dressed. When I turned around she was lying motionless on the bed, eyes closed.

Panicking, we called the duty doctor.  ‘This child is asleep,’ he said, perplexed. Howard and I looked at each other. In ten months she had never fallen asleep without such a huge effort that the possibility hadn’t crossed our minds …” – from Fed Up with Food Intolerance: a personal story (ebook) by Sue Dengate

The excerpt above, from my first book, is about the problems we had getting our first child to sleep until we discovered the RPAH elimination diet. Since then I have spent my time writing about food intolerance and supporting others so they don’t have to go through the same experience.

What our readers say

Bub was up hourly, all night every night, on a good night. Now sleeps 12 hours. (Started elimination when he was 8 months) – Karissa, one-liner from story [1273]

“I already can't quite believe how much calmer our 5 month old is in the last few days, and is sleeping much better than a week ago. I wish I'd heard about this before I was pregnant!” – Fiona, from story [1109]

“Since taking away high salicylate foods I am seeing an increase in sleep and a much more settled baby- Danielle, from story [1368]

Are babies becoming more unsettled?

A midwife who attended our roadshow recently told us her clients often delay having second babies because their first babies were so difficult.

“crying and unsettled for hours at a time, and sleeping poorly. It seems to be increasingly common …”

“As a nurse,” she said, “we tell them to eat everything in moderation while breastfeeding but I realise now they may need some more information” - from story [1145].

Reports from our new Babies story collection suggest that the RPAH Elimination Diet (additive free, low in salicylates & amines) for babies and/or breastfeeding mothers can make a huge difference for some families.

Key points

•  The science says that aspirin – the prototype of the salicylates – can pass into breastmilk

“Aspirin is excreted into breast milk and may cause adverse effects in the infant” -  Bayer Aspirin Side Effects Drug Center, 2016

•   People who are affected by salicylates in aspirin may also be affected by

-similar drugs (such as Nurofen/Ibuprofen)
-salicylates in foods
- some food additives including artificial colours and preservatives 

(Feingold 1974, Swain et al, 1985)

•   Sleep disturbance was found to be one of the main effects of artificial colours by Australian researchers Drs Katherine and Kenneth Rowe. (Anyone who is affected by artificial colours may also be affected by other additives and/or natural food chemicals such as salicylates.) Sleep disturbance can include

-difficulty falling asleep
-frequent night waking
-night terrors
-restless legs

The study reported that younger children were affected by

“constant crying, tantrums, irritability, restlessness, and severe sleep disturbance … Their parents were exhausted through lack of sleep and the constant demands of their children, who were unable to be comforted or controlled.”

(Rowe and Rowe, 1994)

Disturbed sleep can also be caused by pain due to gut problems or itchy skin

These problems may also resolve on the RPAH Elimination Diet.

"My baby never slept: I was at breaking point trying to find a reason my baby was covered in eczema, never slept, did frothy green poos, and never smiled … failsafe gave me my life back" – Blanca from story [1258]

"My son spent the first nine months of his life miserable and in pain. No one was able to help us. I stumbled across the failsafe diet by accident and tried it in desperation. It worked where nothing else had" – Veronica from story [1273]

More reader reports

“… at 12 months my baby son was barely sleeping 4 hours a day … On the diet, it took only 4 days from having someone waking 8 times a night to 2 times a night!!! from sleeping 4 hours a day to 8 hours - and 10 hours by the end of the week. Once I switched to A2 milk he started sleeping through the night by the end of week 2.”- from story [879], see full story below.

“My baby was waking perhaps once a night … until I started her, at 10 months on bread. She immediately returned to night waking … I found that the bread had preservative 282 in it so we stopped feeding it to her. Within a couple of nights she again settled down to a peaceful nights' sleep! – from story [831]

My  10mth old baby boy who screamed for the first 3 and half months of his life all day and half of the night until my doc got me onto a dietitian and we tried the elimination diet …  He reacts to most additives but the bread preservative is the worst and he also reacts very badly to amines” - Dani, from story [121]

“Our 1 year old almost never slept, wanting to feed every two hours, sometimes even more frequently …  within three days on the elimination diet he was sleeping through the night.  We introduced salicylates first, and by the morning of the second day he was back to his old self” -  Jeanette, from story [651]

“My 5 month old has been an extremely easy, happy bub that loves his milk and is a fantastic sleeper  … last night he was screaming uncontrollably from 11pm to 4am, and green poos … 3 weeks later ... Well it appears by eliminating mandarins, tomatoes, salad, avocado and banana I have a perfect little boy” –Gabrielle from story [1345]

Our baby was waking up to 15 times a night, but Tresillian (early parenting service) wasn't for us, it was too harsh, it wasn't doing anything. They are supposed to help mothers with new babies but they don't seem to know anything about salicylate sensitivity" – from [1149] (there were numerous similar complaints on the Fedup Roadshows 2011 and 2012)

“I was sent with my 4 month old son to the Tresillian sleep clinic where they fed him bread, tomatoes and vegemite for the first time in his life. Of course, he got worse!!! He went down to 4 x 15 minute cat naps in 24 hours and they told me he was just stubborn/difficult and to stay the course. After 8 months of persisting with “controlled crying”, I gave up (thank god!) It was only when I found RPAH that my son got any peace” – Sheryl , story [1222]

Sue’s article ‘Restless Babies’ in Nursing Mothers magazine saved my life!! I went failsafe as I was breastfeeding our unsettled/ ratty 6 mth old baby … she became a new baby after 3 days of diet!! -from story [960] Restless babies’ article

“At 4 months, my baby didn't sleep for more than 2 hours at a time and was covered all over in a red rash … this happened every time I made a casserole flavoured with Cup A Soup (with flavour enhancer 635).  I would eat it about 6 pm and by  midday the next day (18 hours later) he was ratty all day, his whole body was red and his scalp crusty…”.- from story [654]

See 2 more full, important stories below and our new Babies story collection

Some food chemicals to avoid

Colours: natural colour annatto 160b and ALL artificial colours in foods, medications and supplements such as Vitamin D tablets, and toothpaste  - note that colours and flavours do not have to be listed on the label of pharmaceuticals 

Bread preservative 280-283
Bread preservative is now found in most breads and wraps including some “healthy” gluten free and organic products.  It can be called calcium propionate, preservative 282, cultured dextrose or cultured anything, and may have a label claim “no artificial preservatives”  See more

Flavour enhancers 627, 631 and 635
These additives are not permitted in foods intended for babies but can obviously pass through breastmilk, see stories 1021 and 654 (This story is a MUST READ if you are eating flavour enhancers while breastfeeding, because we have received other suggestions that 635 can promote the development of true food allergies). https://www.fedup.com.au/stories/2008/654-635-flavour-enhancers-and-a-breastfed-baby-september-2008

More preservatives and other additives
 see our list of additives to avoid

Some foods that are very high in salicylates AND amines
tomato sauce and tomato based toppings
avocados, berries, sultanas and other dried fruit, oranges and other citrus, grapes, kiwi fruit, passionfruit, pineapple, plums and prunes, all fruit juices and fruit flavoured products including jams
herbs and spices including mint
spinach, rocket, mushrooms, eggplant, pickled vegetables and vegetable soups
sauces and stock cubes

What you can do

•   Avoid additives and cut down on very high salicylate foods (above)
•   OR do the whole diet supervised by a dietitian from our list
•   You can see how manageable the diet is from our free failsafe booklet
•   Support is available from our facebook group

“Calvin was an easy baby, slept well, settled after feeds beautifully … Once we started solids, things started changing for the worse. By 12 months he was waking 3-6 times a night screaming and was impossible to soothe…. By 14 months things were desperate. We booked into a failsafe dietician and started the elimination diet. In week 3 he slept through the night for the first time in 15 months …” -  Pippa, from story [878] (see full story below)

See more

List of additives to avoid
Intro to food intolerance
Salicylate factsheet
The FAILSAFE BABIES story collection


Side effects of aspirin, Aspirin side effects center, Medical Editor: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP http://www.rxlist.com/aspirin-side-effects-drug-center.htm

Effects due to aspirin (methyl salicylate) can also be caused by foods Swain AR et al, Salicylates in foods. J Am Diet Assoc. 1985;85(8):950-60.

Feingold, BF Why your child is Hyperactive, Random House 1974

Sleep disturbance is a major effect of artificial colours (and therefore some similar food chemicals)

Rowe KS1, Rowe KJ. Synthetic food coloring and behavior: a dose response effect in a double-blind, placebo-controlled, repeated-measures study. J Pediatr. 1994;125(5 Pt 1):691-8.

Two reader stories in full

[879] Miraculous change in extreme sleeping problems (November 2009) COURAGE AWARD

I was a single mother living alone away from family support, breastfeeding and juggling a wonderful son who at 12 months was barely sleeping 4 hours a day. Most days he looked as if he had drunk a can of "red bull" - eyes rolling, twitching and distant - and sleep only ever seemed to come lightly for short periods once he was beyond exhausted.

He had a rash all over his body that just kept spreading and it made me cry watching him tear at it all day and all night without any relief.

At 12 months I put him into a local day care centre for 2 days a week for some sort of break (sleeping sometimes in the car just around the corner too tired to make it home to sleep after dropping him off). He was a real handful there as he would not settle and ever sleep and would upset all the other babies with his screaming.

I was beside myself by the time I swallowed what pride a new sleepless mum had left and sought every kind of assistance I could - my baby health nurse, my local doctor, and then another doctor all said it was normal (as they all shrugged their shoulders) and the eczema was a lifetime hereditary thing ...

I was even assessed at a local  government "sleep clinic" on the gold coast - an awful experience with him not sleeping at all for them and them saying 20 hours without sleep "may be normal for him " - (bugger me !!)

After my lowest darkest point whereby at about 14 months he barely slept in 40 mins increments I was sent to the state children's sleep school in Brisbane. The basic program philosophy is about controlled crying - but that wasn’t his problem …

It was a 5 day hellish event I would wish on no one. He screamed and cried for the first 3 days solid and set new limits in sleep deprivation - made easier the 3rd day only because he totally lost his voice and his screams couldn’t be heard !!! By day 4 he slept (passed out) from sheer exhaustion - so that was apparently a success and I was sent home day 5!!

After only a day or two at home it was obvious there was no improvement.

The next few weeks as I contemplated our future without support, sleep or potential for work as things stood really took its toll, until I was blessed to come across a pharmacist in our local pharmacy. She sat me down and really talked me through the failsafe approach - and really took the time to make it sink in. I was an unwilling participant as when you are so exhausted anything new seems to be insurmountable.

It took 4 days!!! only 4 days !! from having someone waking 8 times a night to 2 times a night!!! from sleeping 4 hours a day to 8 hours - and 10 hours by the end of the week. Once I switched to A2 milk the loop was complete and he started sleeping the night through by the end of week 2. The change was nothing short of miraculous.

For my son to go from the least favourite boy in his kindy to the favourite almost within a week!! It was like someone had handed me a new son.

He became an affectionate loving inquisitive boy that every mum would be so proud of - no tantrums, no fits of rage, renewed energy and able on concentrate on things so much better he simply bloomed, like watching a wilted flower come back to life after rain.

His rash completely healed - completely!!  He is now 2.5 years and it has never returned!!

When I tell people about all the positive changes we have had on the diet, they seem to think the diet I fed him before failsafe was really poor. They assume it was full of red cordial, McDonalds, coloured commercial lollies etc but I was aware of colours and MSG and he NEVER had those. At the time I was following the diet recommended by the child care centre. It was the sulphur dioxide in dried fruits, the hidden nitrates in meats, and natural colour 160b I wasn’t aware of, that were our biggest problems, also I was breast feeding at the time and was having more "junk food" and stimulants from comfort eating to keep me functioning so he was getting it that way. I realise my mistake in overdoing a "healthy diet" mostly consisting of a mega high salicylates, high amines and glutamates!! and although I was careful about colours and some preservatives, my son’s biggest and most immediate reactions came from fish/ meats/ and preserved fruits.

Having followed all the information you have put out there in the Failsafe Cookbook my son has thrived!!  He has come from behind to be the tallest and fittest in his class. The effect this failsafe lifestyle has had on Patrick has been evident to all who knew him "before diet" as we call it.

I often have people ask me about your work, especially from his childcare centre as they have followed his progress and it’s so rewarding to see the individual but still dramatic change it has on other babies, toddlers and children.

I get angry when I think of the torment and the lost first 12 months of his life - and that a children’s hospital in a week could not assist or pick up what a pharmacist did in seconds - but promise in my own prayers of thanks for you and the pharmacist that I will do my best to help those similar suffering mums that cross my own path. Thank you. - Patrick's proud mum, Qld

[878] Sleeping problems solved - thanks to sleep webinar (November 2009)

Calvin was an easy baby, slept well, settled after feeds beautifully and was just lovely. Once we started solids, things started changing for the worse. By 12 months he was waking 3-6 times a night screaming and was impossible to soothe. Only sheer exhaustion put him back to sleep. I looked into all sorts of options for sleep training, but none of them sat well with me as I was sure it was a pain issue, not a sleep issue, so I resisted urging from friends and family to control cry and looked into the possibility of food intolerance.

At that same time, Sue was advertising a webinar on sleep and food intolerance. I registered and joined in on the night. I listened and took notes, but still wasn't convinced this was us, I just hated the idea of a restricted diet for Calvin.

By 14 months things were desperate and my husband and I were chronically sleep deprived. We booked into a failsafe dietician and started the elimination diet. Calvin improved a little, and then had textbook withdrawal after a week and a half. In week 3 he slept through the night for the first time in 15 months and then slept through for another 3 nights after that. We have had some up and down nights since then, but nothing like the screaming fits he used to have. 7 weeks on, he
has slept through 10 full nights and only woken once or twice for a pat most of the other nights. Now we are slowly introducing challenges, but our need for sleep catch up and Calvin's age has meant that we have opted for the slow route rather than overload challenges. This means we still have a long way to go, but have felt very encouraged by the Fed Up website, book and cookbook - Thanks Sue for all your hard work!! - Pippa

Sue's Blog

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This has been the most life changing thing we have ever done

- Janette

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Food intolerance

Some of the many symptoms of food intolerance that can be helped by diet:

Airways: Asthma, Stuffy blocked or runny nose/ nasal polyps, Frequent nose bleeds, Catarrh, chronic throat-clearing, Sinusitis, Frequent ear infections, Frequent tonsillitis, Frequent colds and flu, symptoms of Samter's Triad, hayfever, allergic rhinitis Skin: Eczema, Urticaria (hives), Cradlecap, Other skin rashes, Angioedema (swollen lips, eyes, tongue), Geographic tongue, Pruritis (itching), Rosaceae, Allergic shiners (dark circles under eyes), Pallor (pale skin), Flushing, Excessive sweating, Body odour, Sore vagina in children, Alopecia (patchy baldness) Digestive system: Irritable bowel symptoms (IBS), Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing), Recurrent mouth ulcers, Indigestion, Nausea, Bad breath, Vomiting, Diarrhea, Stomach ache, Bloating, Reflux in babies, adults, Constipation, Colic in babies, adults, Sluggish bowel syndrome (feeling of "more to come"), Encopresis, Soiling (sneaky poos), Dairy intolerance, Gluten and wheat intolerance, Eating disorders (ed), anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder (BED)  Bladder: Bedwetting, Daytime incontinence, Urinary urgency, Recurrent inflammation (cystitis) Skeletal: Growing pains, Gout, Arthritis, joint pain, arthralgia Eyes: Nystagmus (involuntary movement), Blurred vision Muscles: Low muscle tone, Myalgia (muscle pain), Tics (involuntary movement), Tremor, Leg 'jiggling', Heart: Rapid heart beat, Heart palpitations, Cardiac arrhythmias, Pseudo heart attack (feeling of impending doom, chest pressure, pain down arm), Tachycardia (fast heart beat), Angina-type pain, HHT Central nervous system: Headaches or migraines, unexplained tiredness, Chronic fatigue, Feeling 'hung-over', Confusion, Dizziness, Agitation, Tinnitus (noises in ear), HyperacusisAuditory sensory processing disorder (ASPD), Paraesthesia (pins and needles), Dysaesthesia (numbness), Hypoglycemia, Salicylate-induced hypoglycemia, Epileptic seizures, Fits, Sensory symptoms of multiple sclerosis, Scents and perfume sensitivity, Symptoms of lupus Anxiety: Panic attacks, Depression, Obsessive ruminations (repetitively focusing on bad feelings and experiences from the past), Self harm, Suicidal thoughts, actions, teeth grinding (bruxism) Impaired memory: Vague or forgetful, Unable to concentrate, Won't persevere, Unmotivated, Disorganised, Easily distracted, Difficulty reading and writing Speech: Loud voice (no volume control), Speech hard to understand, Speech delay, Selective mutism, Stuttering, Repetitive noises, Talks too much (empty chatter) Coordination: Poor handwriting, Poor coordination, Frequent accidents, Vertigo Sleep: Difficulty falling asleep, Restless legs syndrome (RLS), Persistent night waking, Insomnia, Nightmares/night terrors/sleepwalking, Sleepless babies, Sleep apnoea Mood: Brain snaps, Mood swings, Premenstrual tension, Grizzly or unhappy, Cries easily or often, Irritable, Uncooperative Oppositional defiance: ODD, Loses temper, Argumentative, Refuses requests, Defies rules, Deliberately annoys others, Blames others for own mistakes, Touchy, easily annoyed, Angry, resentful Other behaviour: ADHD, ADD, Autism, Aspergers, Inattentive, easily bored, unmotivated, 'Unable to entertain himself', Restless, fidgety or overactive, Head banging, Hyperactivity, Fights with siblings, Difficulty making friends, Destructive, aggressive, Unreasonable, Tantrums, Demanding, never satisfied, Disruptive, Discipline is ineffective, Pervasive Development Disorder

Some causes of food intolerance:

Food additives: Artificial colours: (food dyes, artificial colors) tartrazine 102 (E102, FD&C Yellow No.5), quinoline yellow 104 (E104), sunset yellow 110 (E110, FD&C Yellow No.6), azorubine, carmoisine 122 (E122), amaranth 123 (E123), ponceau, brilliant scarlet 124 (E124), erythrosine 127 (E127, FD&C Red No.3), allura red 129 (E129, FD&C Red No.40), indigotine, indigo carmine 132 (E132, FD&C Blue No.2), brilliant blue 133 (E133, FD&C Blue No.1), green S, food green, acid brilliant green 142 (E142), fast green FCF 143 (E143, FD&C Green No.3), brilliant black 151 (E151), brown, chocolate brown 155 (E155)  Natural colours: (colors) Annatto (annatto extracts, bixin, norbixin, 160b, E160b) Preservatives: Sorbates: (sorbic acid 200, E200, sodium sorbate 201, E201, potassium sorbate 202, E202, calcium sorbate 203, E203) Benzoates, hydroxybenzoates, parabens: (including benzoic acid 210, E210, sodium benzoate 211, E211, potassium benzoate 212, E212, calcium benzoate 213, E213, ethyl para-hydroxybenzoate 214, E214, sodium ethyl para-hydroxybenzoate 215, E215, propylparaben 216, E216, propyl 4 hydroxybenzoate 217, E217, methylparaben 218, E218) Sulfites, bisulfites, metabisulfites: (200-228, sulphites, sulphur dioxide, sulfur dioxide 220, E220, sodium sulphite 221, E221, sodium bisulphite 222, E222, sodium metabisulphite 223, E223, potassium metabisulphite 224, E224, potassium sulphite 225, E225, calcium sulphite 226, E226, calcium bisulfite 227, E227, potassium bisulphite 228, E228) Nitrates & nitrites: (249-252, potassium nitrite 249, E249, sodium nitrite 250, E250, sodium nitrate 251, E251, potassium nitrate 252, E252 Propionates: (bread preservative, mould inhibitor 280-283: propionic acid 280, E280, sodium propionate 281, E281, calcium propionate 282, E282, potassium propionate 283, E283, 'natural' preservatives in bread, cultured or fermented wheat, dextrose, sugar, flour, whey or anything) Synthetic antioxidants: Gallates 310, 311, 312 (E310, E311, E312), tBHQ 319, E319, BHA 320, E320, BHT 321, E321 Flavour enhancers: (flavor enhancers) glutamic acid and all glutamates, MSG monosodium glutamate 620-625, yeast extract, hydrolysed vegetable protein HVP, disodium guanylate 627 (E627, DSG, GMP), disodium inosinate 631 (E631, DSI, IMP), ribonucleotides 635 (E635, I&G, nucleotides)  Flavours: (flavors)  Natural food chemicals: Salicylates: salicylic acid, sodium salicylate, acetylsalicylic acid Biogenic amines: vasoactive amines (tyramine, phenylethylamine, histamine and others) Glutamates:  Natural foods: Dairy: milk, yoghurt, cheese, butter, lactose-free milks Wheat or Gluten: (wheat, rye, barley, oats) Soy: Sugar free sweeteners:Sugar free sweeteners: polyols, sorbitol, mannitol

On this website, failsafe refers to foods that are Free of Additives and Low in Salicylates, Amines and Flavour Enhancers. Note that copyright applies to the commercial use of the term "failsafe" in the food and health context so as to control inappropriate use by the food and health industries.