My Experience Giving Up Dairy as a Breastfeeding Mom
Luke has struggled with tummy troubles since he was a few weeks old. He always seemed hungry yet he rarely ate contentedly, frequently coming off the breast screaming. He looked visibly uncomfortable, regularly arching his back as he tried to burp, or pulled his lugs up to his tummy in pain. He didn't nap well, he often fussed all.day.long, and he spit up like crazy. It was exhausting for both us, to say the least.
We all know that fussiness and spit up is normal can be expected of babies, so at first I didn't think much of his reflux. We tried various remedies, like Oval Gas Drops, feeding him in an upright position, and burping him as regularly as possible, but to no avail. All I could do was comfort him and hope that his digestive system would mature sooner than later.
I considered the possibility that he might be sensitive to something I was eating, but Luke's doctor, as well as most reliable sources on the Internet, recommended everything in moderation. Allergies in breastfed babies, they said, were very rare. His doctor told us that his symptoms were likely unrelated to my diet. At first, this explanation satisfied me because, if I'm being honest, I wasn't yet prepared to go through the extensive trial and error it would require to pinpoint what food was causing the problem.
Things changed, however, when he became very constipated and developed eczema around 10 weeks old. Ironically, this coincided with when we began supplementing with formula, which is milk-based. However, his doctor didn't think anything was out of the ordinary, so we carried on, taking one day at a time.
Unfortunately, his skin only got worse, as did his constipation. The rash on his cheeks began to break open and then scab over, and he would scream in pain each time he moved his bowels, which only happened every 7-9 days. Luke's doctor recommended prune juice to ease his constipation and Aveeno cream for his eczema. These remedies helped for a quick minute, but the results were temporary - the underlying problem remained. Still, his doctor maintained that his symptoms were not worrisome. "It usually bothers parents more than it bothers the babies," he said with a shrug.
But my mama instincts told me otherwise. While I realize his symptoms were not serious in the big picture, they were making him uncomfortable. It was affecting Luke's quality of life and I was determined to get to the bottom of it.
Then one day I read one breastfeeding mother's account of of how cutting out dairy helped her constipated and colicky baby tremendously, and everything clicked for me. Like any millennial mother would do, I quickly took to the Internet. There were numerous similar stories. I'd had a hunch that something in my diet or Luke's formula, or both, was causing his reflux, but up until that point I'd had no idea it could cause constipation and skin troubles too. So, because dairy is the biggest allergen in babies, I decided to cut dairy out of my diet.
It took a few weeks, but Luke's skin finally cleared up. It took even longer for his bowel movements to become soft and more regular, but sure enough they improved too. Then, Luke spent a weekend at his grandparents' house. I didn't have enough breastmilk pumped, so he had a few bottles of dairy based formula. Sure enough, within a few hours, his cheeks were red and inflamed again and he was itching like crazy. What's more, he didn't poop for another week. I had my answer. It must be the dairy!
I'm happy to report that after he was about 4.5 months old, he improved markedly. At 6 months old, he's now a happy baby, with clear skin to boot.
Now, I'm well aware that allergies, and even food sensitivities, are relatively uncommon. This post is simply meant to share our experience, not to give medical advice. The stories that finally gave me the push I needed to eliminate dairy from my diet as a test were purely anecdotal. It's not a decision I took lightly because (a) much of the medical community disagrees that there is a correlation between constipation, skin issues, and food allergies/sensitivities in babies and, (b) as a new mama I was really not impressed with the fact that I had to give up my daily latte!
However, I simply had a hunch that Luke's discomfort was food-related, so I trusted my gut. I still very much like and respect Luke's doctor, but I'm glad I followed my instincts in this case because Luke is a different baby since he no longer has tummy troubles or irritated skin. This tells me there's still a lot we don't know about nutrition and breastfeeding! So, if you have a similar experience, do sound research, get a second opinion and, most importantly, follow your gut!
I sure hope Luke outgrows this sensitivity, but for now going dairy-free is working for us.
Brittany Van Den Brink is a PhD Candidate and freelance writer living in small-town Ontario with her husband, baby son, and their Golden Retriever, Chevy. She founded Motherhood Her Way to collaborate with other moms as they go through the ups and downs of motherhood. Say hi on Instagram @brittanyvandenbrink.