Going Dairy Free While Nursing

Going dairy free while nursingWhen my daughter was 8 weeks old, after 2 months of trying everything to comfort a screaming, spitting, unhappy baby, I went dairy free. I’d talked to her pediatrician about the possibility of her issues being reflux, and while he agreed that she had some of the symptoms, he was reluctant to jump straight to medication, as was I. Instead, we decided to try diet modification to see if that might be what was behind what was vexing my sweet girl.

After hours spent reading Kelly Mom about nursing, reflux, and food sensitivities, I decided to try eliminating dairy from my diet first, as it appeared to be the most common food that could transfer through mother’s milk and cause issues in baby. Thankfully, in our case, dairy did seem to be the culprit and I didn’t have to experiment more with my diet. Within a week she seemed happier, with fewer crying jags and less spit up. To confirm this diagnosis, the few times I slipped up were quickly followed with a long day of screaming.

If you’re considering going dairy free as well, here’s what I learned that I can pass on.

  • Babies with dairy sensitivity are not usually lactose intolerant, although that term is often used. Instead, it’s the cow’s milk protein that they can’t digest. So don’t bother switching to lactose free milk, because it more than likely won’t help. Instead, switch to a dairy-free option such as almond, soy, rice, or even hemp milk. I preferred almond milk myself, but try a few and find what suits you.
  • Read your labels. There’s dairy in more items than you may think. Some babies may not have problems with processed (cooked) dairy, but you may want to skip it all just to be safe.
  • At restaurants, don’t go by the menu alone. Talk to the waiter, or see if they can check with the kitchen if you’re unsure if a dish contains dairy. They don’t always spell out all ingredients on the menu. Most restaurants are more than happy to accommodate.
  • Stick with your prenatal vitamin. Dairy may have previously been a large source of your calcium, Vitamin D, and protein. But sure to continue taking your prenatal vitamins to offset this drop. Also seek out non-dairy options that contain these vitamins. Citrus and dark greens are great for calcium, mushrooms contain vitamin D, and nuts and eggs are a great source of protein.
  • Don’t think all of your treats are gone! To my relief and delight, I found that most of my local coffee shops carried at least one, if not multiple, milk alternative options, so my chai teas and coffees were not off limits! I also found delicious dairy-free sorbet and ice cream options at my local grocery stores. I even found out that you can order a cheese-free pizza! No, for a dairy lover, it’s not nearly as satisfying as the real deal, but it beats watching your husband scarf down slices while you nibble on veggies.

A number of sources I’d read mentioned the tendency for most babies to grow out of this intolerance, and many women who’d walked the same path had seen improvement after baby reached 6 months old, so that’s when I slowly began to reintroduce dairy. I started with processed dairy in small quantities, moving on to hard cheese, then yogurt, and I eventually brought back straight milk last. With each reintroduction, I waited a few days to watch for side effects in my daughter but thankfully never saw any. By the time we began baby led weaning a month later, she never had any issue with any food we offered.

Diet changes are hard, especially with something like dairy, an ingredient that many of us have counted as part of our daily diet for our entire lives. The change it brought to our baby and our household, though, was worth it 10 fold. A few months of inconvenience for me were nothing compared to seeing my baby girl grow healthy and happy.

Have you had to make any dietary changes while nursing? What tips would you give to other moms?

Kate is a mostly stay-at-home mom in the Pacific NW who is glad to have half and half back in her coffee and whose daughter now eats anything and everything.

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