Saturday, August 3, 2013

Breastfeeding on a Dairy-Free Diet: Our Journey and Our Tips

World Breastfeeding Week 2013 Blog Carnival - and The San Diego Breastfeeding Center
Welcome to the World Breastfeeding 2013 Blog Carnival cohosted by and The San Diego Breastfeeding Center!
This post was written for inclusion in the WBW 2013 Blog Carnival. Our participants will be writing and sharing their stories about community support and normalizing breastfeeding all week long. Find more participating sites in the list at the bottom of this post or at the main carnival page.
Over the past year and a half, I posted quite a bit about my breastfeeding journey with Baby George; it was a challenging and rewarding journey for me because it required dietary sacrifices (namely dairy and soy) on my part. Since the time that Georgie has weaned and has begun tolerating these foods well, I have had a few friends who have embarked upon their own dairy-free breastfeeding journeys and have come to me for advice, encouragement, and tips. Since the first week of August is World Breastfeeding Week, it seemed appropriate to me to prepare a post that summarizes our journey, the benefits that George and I both derived from the decision I made, and ways that we can potentially help other moms that are going through similar situations.

From the beginning, my husband and I knew that something just wasn't right with George. Even from his very first night he was incredibly stuffed with mucus, so much so that we worried about him sleeping at night and slid textbooks under one end of his crib mattress to elevate his head. This was accompanied by difficulty sleeping and eventually followed by fussiness and diaper rash. Within just a few short weeks, our Georgie was nearly constantly covered in a hideous-looking rash. We worked closely with the pediatrician on skin-protection regimens and he was administered topical steroids several times; each time the cream would clear him up, but as soon as we stopped administering it that nasty old rash would rear its ugly head again.

When George was two months old, a friend of mine who is a lactation consultant suggested that his problem might be a food allergy. I honestly hadn't even considered this possibility! She suggested that I cut out dairy and continue to nurse George. I began wondering if perhaps her suggestion was plausible, and over the next ten days I watched George's skin closely as I ate different types of foods; I noticed no patterns, but, then again, the rash was consistent and terrible. I began doing internet research on dairy allergies and found that, sure enough, George's profile seemed to be consistent with some frequently-reported symptoms (facial and body rashes, diaper rash, excessive spitting up, and other gastro-intestinal issues). Finally, I woke up one morning when he was about ten weeks old and said, "Enough is enough." I knew that day was the day that I would begin cutting dairy out of my diet to see if it made a difference for him. Little did I know that this was only the beginning...

Like most people that go dairy-free for a period of time, I made a ton of rookie mistakes in that first week! I knew I would be giving up obvious cow-milk foods such as butter, cheese, sour cream, and ice cream. Bye bye pizza. However, I had absolutely no clue that milk is in so many food items! I had naively assumed that if I went to Chick Fil A and ordered a grilled chicken sandwich with no cheese and specifically requested no butter on the bun, I would be in the clear. EEEH! WRONG! To use Chick Fil A as an example, there is milk as an ingredient in the bun itself, the chicken (both the grilled and fried varieties) undergoes a milk wash, and the fries are also NOT dairy-free! Okay then, big mess-up. A closer look at the ingredient labels led me to realize that so many food items, from spaghetti sauces to dinner rolls to many breakfast cereals to Doritos to Toaster Strudels all contain either milk, milkfat, whey, casein, sodium caseinate, lactoglobulins, or other various no-nos. I began spending a couple of hours a day researching the exact limitations of a dairy-free diet, finding restaurants that offered options for me to eat, and brainstorming dairy-free meal ideas for our home. I had the complete support of my husband, who also ate dairy-free meals with me (he was allowed to eat pizza and cheeseburgers at work, as long as he didn't tell me about it!), and I can't tell you how crucial it was for me to have a partner who knew my goals and worked to support my endeavors. Within five days, George's skin was absolutely flawless and his congestion was absent. We knew that we had found our answer. A little tweaking with my ingredient intake led us to the conclusion that George also struggled with soy, so I eliminated soy from my diet as well. *A word on this in a moment!

All in all, I remained on a strict dairy- and soy-free diet with George for nearly eight months. When he was just over ten months old, our pediatrician told me to reintroduce the allergens in a tiny amount to see how George would respond, as many babies begin outgrowing their allergies at around nine months old. Lucky for me, George responded very well to my long-awaited chips and queso! Hooray! Along the journey, there were days when eating no dairy was very easy for me and I hardly had to think twice about it; near the end, however, I feel like I almost became obsessed with thinking about the foods I couldn't have. During those months I found myself missing cheese quite a bit, with pizza being the penultimate dream, followed shortly by one of the newly-introduced Doritos Locos tacos from Taco Bell. I can't help but smile wryly as I think about those cravings and how funny our stubborn taste-buds can be!

When people ask me if the dairy-free diet was worth it, I answer with a resounding YES. Yes, yes, yes, it was worth it! There were so many reasons why I needed to do what I did even though it was hard, and I will always be glad for that decision! Here are some of the top reasons why I have encouraged breastfeeding friends whose babies have potential food allergies to give this sacrifice a try:

1. The obvious first reason is how much better your baby will feel if it really is a dairy allergy, and you successfully remove all traces of the allergen from your diet (and therefore your baby's system). George was happier and seemed better in every way within just a short time, and this sustained my motivation over eight long months.

2. You'll probably lose all of your pregnancy some! I couldn't keep the weight on, really and truly. The pounds just seemed to melt off, even though I let myself eat as much as I wanted and whatever I wanted that was dairy- and soy-free. Ghiradelli semi-sweet chocolate morsels? Yeah, I threw them back by the handful several times a day (they're the only delicious dairy-free chocolate morsel that I ever found, by the way). I ate two whole bags a week! Second and third helpings at dinner? Bring it! Between George's birth and the day I went dairy-free I lost 30 pounds; after I went dairy-free I lost 35 more and ended up 25 pounds below my pre-pregnancy weight. Cutting out all of those dairy-filled processed foods, plus engaging in some low-key jogging, had its benefits!

3. The bonding with my baby was intense. It's probably in part due to some psychological defense mechanism ("I tell myself this is worth it because it's hard"), but my feelings for George intensified many times over during that first year. I felt as though it was him and me against the world, dairy-free buddies taking it by storm! He and I were a team, and a darn good one at that! I loved him all the more for the sacrifices that I made.

4. If your baby cannot tolerate dairy or soy, then choosing to cut the allergens out of your own diet will be far cheaper than relying upon alimentum formula, which typically runs about $30 for a 16-ounce can. Welcome savings!

5. And finally, my fifth motivating factor was ultimately the one factor why many people say it isn't worth the sacrifice in the first place: I just love dairy so much. I love ice cream and cheese and pizza and Mexican food; I love it all so much, in fact, that I can't imagine not eating this food with my children. I knew from my pediatrician that if I gave up my son's allergens and breastfed him rather than put him on alimentum formula, his chances of overcoming this allergy would be better and sooner; I SO wanted this for George. I craved the very idea of eating pizza and ice cream cake with him at his birthday parties and watching his face light up as he eats delicious foods that I love. I craved the idea so much that I gave up the food itself, so that my daydream had a better chance of becoming a reality.

Please learn from my mistakes along the way! I made months' worth of dairy-free recipes, researched milk substitutes (because I love to cook and bake), and learned the in's and out's of what I could eat when I was out on the road. Some restaurants were extremely accommodating to my needs (one kind server even let me scour ingredients on labels back in the kitchen with her!) and others were not (nasty stare from food-prep gentleman as I timidly pointed out the shredded cheese that was strewn all about the salsa I wanted on my burrito at a build-your-own burrito chain).  These are some important things I found along the way:

1. Know your dairy ingredient names so you can find them easily on food labels!  This website was particularly helpful for me in memorizing these:

2. Find out what you CAN eat from grocery stores and focus on using those ingredients as building blocks. Try to see it in terms of what you are allowed to eat, rather than what you are not. This website helped me with this:

3. Yes, eating out is going to be hard, but with some education and some creativity, you can do it! For instance, nope, you can't eat the buns at Five Guys Burgers...but you CAN get your delicious hamburger wrapped in lettuce with all of the fixings minus cheese, plus their french fries are dairy-free (most french fries at places aren't)!  Here is a guide that we used for choosing restaurants:, and here is their fast-food guide: A word of caution: unless you can become intimately acquainted with the menu of local, one-of-a-kind restaurants, they are generally hard to eat at because they largely do not provide allergen menus. This will stick you with a lot of chains, because the larger chains are the ones who are more willing to provide their ingredient lists, in my experience. YOU TYPICALLY CANNOT TRUST YOUR SERVER TO KNOW IF SOMETHING HAS DAIRY IN IT. I cannot stress this enough; as well-meaning as your server may be, he or she typically does not have the knowledge of milk-protein allergies and will simply make the assumption that something does not contain dairy if there is no obvious cheese or butter in it. You will be responsible for hunting down this information on your own before you consume the meal!

4. You can find ways to have your delicious treats!
Oh, yes, these chocolate chip cookies are dairy-free and delicious! I made them in my own kitchen by substituting Crisco for butter and using Ghiradelli semi-sweet morsels (they must be the semi-sweet kind; the milk chocolate and bittersweet renditions both have milkfat). Here is a separate post with this cookie recipe. In the fall I made a delicious pumpkin pie that was dairy- and soy- free (okay, many times I made this pumpkin pie because I'm a pumpkin pie fiend), and friends and family swore they couldn't tell the difference! The pie is the creation of Alisa Fleming, who ingeniously thought to be substitute Silk coconut milk for the traditionally called-for evaporated milk. After hours of drumming my fingers and running out of options for my favorite dessert of all, Alisa came to the rescue!
I also found that you can make a delicious cup of hot chocolate using 4 tablespoons of Ghiradelli semi-sweet chocolate chips mixed with three-quarters of a cup of soy or almond milk. Just put them together in a mug, microwave for 90 seconds, and stir vigorously for a minute or so. Yum! My husband and I both think this creation is delicious.

5. Sweets aren't the only foods to get creative with! We tweaked existing recipes and developed a running inventory of dairy- and soy-free meals that we could reliably prepare and love. Take for instance "Mexican Mashup:" cook some brown rice (I cook it in chicken stock instead of water for extra flavor) and smother it with a heated mixture of drained canned black beans and a salsa of your choosing. Then add chunks of avocado and shredded cabbage (I use bagged cole-slaw starter which can be found by the mixed greens in the grocery store) and scarf it up with tortilla chips. All of these foods are perfectly safe! You can create your own meals or you can contact me for more ideas....I have several.

6. Soy-free diet does not mean you have to give up ALL soy! I began crying when I realized that I needed to give up soy and saw that it is basically an ingredient in everything--that is, until I researched it more thoroughly and came to understand that soy lecithin and refined soybean oil are considered safe enough that manufacturers aren't even required to put it on their labels. Best I understood, these two ingredients, which comprise the soy in many foods, are safe to eat by nearly everyone, with the exception of perhaps people who are allergic enough that they could die if they consume soy. This rules back in a ton of foods, including basics like peanut butter.

I know that this has been a lot of information and it isn't applicable to most people who read this blog. I just wanted to have this information out there and in one place for those who need it. Think you can't do it? Think again, my friend. You are powerful, and stronger than you might think. Build yourself up by leaning on a positive support system, and surround yourself with images of strength (for example, one of my favorite posts here about female grit!). I welcome woman-to-woman encouragement, as I believe that building each other up is essential. We are stronger, more skilled, and happier as we connect with one another and rely on others for support. Good luck to all of you moms out there, and to your little nurslings too!

World Breastfeeding Week 2013 Blog Carnival - and The San Diego Breastfeeding Center Visit and The San Diego Breastfeeding Center for more breastfeeding resources and WBW Carnival details!
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants. Below are a list of links for today's participants; you can find a complete list of links (updated throughout the week) at our main carnival page:
(This list will be updated by afternoon August 3 with all the carnival links.)
  • Breastfeeding and NIP: A Primer — Rachel Rainbolt of Sage Parenting, featured today at, uses her informative and candid voice to share with you everything you need to know to breastfeed successfully in public, from the practical how-to's to handling the social stigma.
  • Lactivist Ryan Gosling — Breastfeeding mamas, the time is long overdue for a Lactivist Ryan Gosling. Fortunately, Dionna of Code Name: Mama has created some for your viewing pleasure.
  • In Defense of Formula — Amy of Mom2Mom KMC, guest blogging for Breastfeeding in Combat Boots, asserts that formula is a medical tool rather than a food. She examines how this perspective supports breastfeeding as normal and eliminates the negative tensions between breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding mothers.
  • World Breastfeeding Week 2013 Blog Carnival - Breastfeeding Tips & Tricks — Throughout her breastfeeding journey (since March 2009), Jenny at I'm a full-time mummy has shared countless tips and tricks on the topic of breastfeeding.
  • Nursing in the Wild — Meredith at Thank You Ma'am posts about how seeing other moms nurse can make all of us more comfortable with nursing in public.
  • Normalizing Breastfeeding — Sara Stepford of The Stepford Sisters confronts the social stigma vs. the reality of breastfeeding and opens up about the steps she takes to make herself and others more comfortable with the process.
  • Breastfeeding Alrik at two years old — This is where Lauren at Hobo Mama and her second-born are at in their nursing relationship, two years in.
  • Perfectly Normal — Stephanie from Urban Hippie writes about the way she and her family have done their part to try and normalize breastfeeding in a society that doesn't get to see breastfeeding as often as they should.
  • Diagnosis: Excess Lipase — Learn about excess lipase and how to test if your expressed milk has it. That Mama Gretchen shares her own experience.
  • Redefining Normal — Diana at Munchkin's Mommy reflects on how we can normalize breastfeeding in our society.
  • Nursing Openly and Honestly — Amy W. at Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work feels that the most socially responsible thing she can do as a mother is to nurse and nurture her children openly, honestly, and with pride.
  • Wet-nursing, Cross-nursing and Milk-sharing: Outdated? — Jamie Grumet of I Am Not the Babysitter shares a response to the Wendy Williams quote about milk sharing being akin to slavery, by giving a brief history of the wet nurse.
  • Tackling Mastitis with an Older Nursling — Much of the advice available for supporting recovery from mastitis seems to be aimed at mamas with younger nurslings. Juliet of Twisting Vines, posting at Natural Parents Network shares tips for dealing with mastitis while breastfeeding a toddler.
  • Milk in the eye — Gena from Nutrition Basics discusses how breastmilk cured her 3 year old's case of pink eye.
  • Boobie Biter — Rachel Rainbolt at Sage Parenting offers guidance on how to survive and thrive a boobie biter with your breastfeeding relationship intact.
  • My take on breastfeeding advice — Diana at Munchkin's Mommy shares her insights on nursing for both new moms and new dads.
  • My Top Five Breastfeeding Tips for Delivery Day: Think "A-B-C-D-E"Mothernova shares how her continued success at breastfeeding with her second child rests on a foundation of five key things she did to prepare for baby's arrival, along with things she did when she and baby first met. Easily enough, these tips can be categorized as "A-B-C-D-E": Access to lactation consultant, Baby-friendly hospital, Communicate your plan to breastfeed exclusively, Demand, and Expect to room in.
  • Breastfeeding Buddies: Twin Brothers Nurse while Living in the NICU — Twintrospectives at How Do You Do It? shares her 5 tips for learning to breastfeed multiples while in the NICU.
  • Breastfeeding on a Dairy-Free Diet: Our Journey and Our Tips — Finding herself nursing a baby with food allergies, Jenny at Spinning Jenny embarked upon a dairy-free journey with her son for eight months. Here she relates her reasons for making the decision to give up dairy in her diet, why it was worth it, and tips for moms on the same path.
  • Normalizing Breastfeeding in my Home — Shannah at The Touch of Life shares how she plans to help keep breastfeeding normal for her own children, even when her breastfeeding years are over.
  • A Year With My Nursling — The more you see and hear, the more normal it becomes, so That Mama Gretchen is sharing her heart on the last year of breastfeeding - the ups and downs, but mostly the joy of her priceless relationship with her son.
  • From Covered to Confident — Krystyna at Sweet Pea Births shares her personal NIP evolution: she started by covering up from neck to ankle while nursing in public. Eight years later, she has gained confidence and the ability to nurse without stressing about flashing a little skin. She shares her views on normalizing breastfeeding - what influenced her and how she hopes to help others.
  • Normalizing Breastfeeding for Older Kids — Sadia at How Do You Do It? hopes that openly discussing breastfeeding with her (now weaned) daughters will help her children feel comfortable with breastfeeding and their bodies in general as they grow.
  • Nursing in Public — Listen up, mammas. Those other people around . . . they don’t matter. It’s not about them. It’s about you and that beautiful baby. Nurse on, says The Swaddled Sprout!
  • How to Nurse a Teenager — Sarah at The Touch of Life declares: the purpose is to help normalize breastfeeding a toddler.


  1. This is some great perspective and practical advice for mamas in a tough situation. I know I LOVE my dairy but I love breastfeeding my son more so if I were in this situation, I would grateful for this article to help me through it!

  2. I was allergic to dairy as a child, but was breastfed to age 2. I wonder how much less eczema and asthma I would have had to contend with were Scottish doctors aware of allergens being passed on in breast milk? I educated myself about this issue when I became pregnant, but am happy to report that my kids are so far (7 years old) allergy-free. I'll be bookmarking this post, though, for the next friend who has to make the food sacrifices you've made.

  3. What a helpful and inspiring post! We went through the same thing with our son and breastfed for 23 months. It is challenging but doable, and so rewarding, as you said! Thank you for sharing your story and offering great ideas and resources for other moms breastfeeding with food allergies. Best wishes, mama!

  4. Another dairy-free mama here -- but I was vegan to start with which made it easier :) (we worked out L's intolerance when I had accidental dairy and he had a DREADFUL night, around 2 weeks; and tested it again a couple of days later to be sure). He seems to be outgrowing it now he's been on solid food for a while.

    So another good tip if you're going dairy-free is to seek out vegans and vegan resources!

    1. Thank you, Juliet! That's a great tip. I always knew when I was shopping in the store that if the label said "Vegan" I was safe!

  5. I just want to say I can't thank you enough for this post!3days into my 100%dairy free journey and where I've thought I did good lately I haven't.I'm feeling a little down that all these signs were there from the start and it's been almost 6 months and we just now figured out to try this completely. I went to Chick Fila for lunch today & told myself I can have a sandwhich with no cheese and butter. But chose chicken nuggets instead to make it easier on the employees.I was excited to read their chick fila sauce and see I could have it.I'm addicted to that stuff & thought I chose well for dinner.Now I see I messed up again.Yesterday I went to my favorite Italian place.Only ate fried Calamari and bread sticks.I today realize both of those were a nono. :( It's a tough journey starting out. I find myself reading more and more and begging for information.Thank you for providing recipes and breaking it down to what it is specifically i have to watch for on labels. My son has been congested since birth.doctors said it was normal,he has had eczema, a rash that comes and goes (this one hasn't happened in a while) is starting to have a diaper rash that comes and goes,he literally tears scratches into his skin ankles back of knee ears and top of his head mainly.Spits up a lot after every feeding and all day in between.(some days he doesnt at all though).
    I just can't express my gratitude enough that you've shared this for everyone.You may have just saved me a little. & helped me with ways to feel better about my transitioning.
    I don't like avacado coconut and almond and since they're my new best friend I've got some work to do!

    1. Allicia, hang in there and try not to feel down or disappointed! It's a learning process for everyone, and I promise that it won't take long to become a pro if your motivation level stays high. I'm certainly available to talk with you more if you need any support or further help! You can email me at

  6. Can you share your chocolate chip recipe?

    1. Yes, I just wrote a separate post that contains the recipe. I also amended this post just now and added the link.

  7. Thank you for this information. My little guy is allergic to soy and dairy, and like you, I loooove cheese, ice cream, and Mexican food! The transition to a S+D free diet has been a challenge for me and I have made so many mistakes along the way. We're now doing great at 4 months- no more crazy rashes and I can finally put down the spit up cloth!

    1. Congratulations on your achievement, Susanna! I know it isn't easy! Thanks for your comment.

  8. I am dealing with this with my 4 week old right now and while googling about breastfeeding dairy free moms i came across this! Thank you so much. I would love more information it it and any dinner recipes if you have any! i need help big time. lol. Time to buckle down on all my research today!

    1. Hey Anna! Give me your email address and I'll be glad to help!

    2. I'd love recipes as well if you are sharing! Thanks!

  9. Thanks for the great post. I am just starting soy and dairy free for my 5 week old daughter. She spits up all day long and seems very uncomfortable if she isn't upright. We have tried reflux meds, homeopathic remedies, and probiotics without any luck. I am wondering how long before I should expect to see some improvement?

    1. Becky, I'm sorry to hear about your daughter's troubles. I sure hope she gets more comfortable soon. As far as removing dairy from your diet and seeing results, I think it all depends on the person. It will take some time for the dairy to be out of your system, and then it will take a little longer for it to get out of hers as well. I was lucky and noticed results VERY quickly. By day 4 I was starting to think that George looked more cleared up, and by day 5 we were certain. His skin was nearly flawless, which was a huge change (I'm sure you saw the picture in the post). So with me it only took five days, but I have heard it can take up to a couple of weeks for some people. Good luck, and let me know if I can help anymore!

  10. Jenny, this is a great post, thank you SO much! I'm guessing that my daughter may be sensitive to dairy. I'm going to try going without and see if it helps things. Could you add me to your dinner recipe list? :) Thanks again!

  11. Thank so much! I'm also trying to navigate this foreign world of dairy and soy free for my little one. I would really love and appreciate any recipes you have for soy and dairy free and any foods. Reading labels with a 2 month old and 2 yr old is extremely difficult :)

  12. Thank you so much! My daughter has the same symptoms! I have just started a dairy and soy free diet. I stay away from tomatoes as well. I would love any recipes you are willing to share! My email is Thanks so much!

  13. Thank you for this post!!! We are going through the same with our 11 week old son! Just starting a dairy and soy free diet and am super overwhelmed!! Are there any easy recipes and ideas that you could share with me, pretty please??! My email is! Thank you so much!!!!

  14. awful piece of information, I had come to know about your blog from my friend vimal, mumbai,i have read atleast 13 posts of yours by now, and let me tell you, your blog gives the best and the most interesting information. This is just the kind of information that i had been looking for, i'm already your rss reader now and i would regularly watch out for the new posts, once again hats off to you! Thanks a million once again, Regards, upma recipe

  15. Thank you so much for sharing your story. My daughter just turned 7 weeks and has blood in her stool, which her pediatrician says could be due to dairy and soy. Just started restricting yesterday. She also has some congestion which I didn't think about being related to milk until you mentioned it. Hoping that dairy and soy are the culprits.
    Nice to hear someone being so realistic about food, too and that there can be success with this issue for mom and most importantly baby! Can you please add me to your recipe list
    Thanks again!

    1. Shawn, absolutely! Email coming shortly. I'm starting to think that I should just create a second post that has all of our ideas on it!

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  17. I also just started dairy and soy free for my little man, 4 weeks old. I would really appreciate your recipe list: I have noticed an imporovent, but we've had a recent backslide and I suspect I slipped up when out to dinner this week. How long did you find it took to clear out of your system and have symptoms resolve if you unknowingly consumed dairy?

    1. Elise, my doctor said that any mistakes stay in my system for 2-3 days but in my daughter's for about a week.

    2. Sure thing about the recipes, ladies. Emails have been sent! As far as clearing up mistakes, my biggest mistake was early on and set George back about 5-7 days, I think.