Friday, August 13, 2010

A Word About Dairy

I believe I've mentioned before that I'm avoiding dairy as a rule. The reasons are two-fold. 1. It bothers Lily via breastmilk. 2. It bothers me.

Sometimes this is hard for people to understand. What, Lily can't have milk? But her entire diet consists of... milk! How silly. Well, it's actually not that silly.

So here's a handy FAQ!

Q: Is Lily lactose intolerant?

A: No. It is extremely rare for a baby to be lactose intolerant, and it may even be impossible. My human milk is full of lactose and she's fine with it. So, again, the issue here is not with lactose.

Q: Is Lily allergic to dairy?

A: No. A true allergy to dairy protein is rare and would result in severe reactions to even a little bit of dairy in my diet. Her reactions are not nearly severe enough to make me suspect an allergy. Her problem seems to be a sensitivity, or intolerance.

Q: Then how do you know she has a problem?

A. The answer to this question derives from a bit of intuition and some simple non-scientific experiments. And, be forewarned, the following paragraphs will talk quite a bit about baby poop.

When Lily was super tiny, she pooped frequently like all newborns do. I started noticing more and more that her poop, instead of being nice and mustard-yellow and seedy, was increasingly green-colored, mucus-y, and watery. And as she got to the age when most babies start consolidating their poops, she continued to poop quite frequently (12x a day). The green mucus concerned me. The lactation consultant and the doctor told me to keep an eye on it but weren't too concerned since she was definitely healthy and gaining weight appropriately. It didn't get worse, but it also did not improve. She also had eczema, skin rashes--both of which she would scratch until she bled--and itchy nose and congestion. Her worst poop days were accompanied by extra fussiness and gas. I must note that Lily is a very easy baby. She has a very even temperament and rarely cries. So her "extra fussiness" probably served to put her in the category of an average baby. But I know my baby, and I knew that she was uncomfortable.

I knew also, from my reading, that it's common for little breastfed babies to be sensitive to certain foods in the mother's diet. Gas-causing vegetables, eggs, meat, and dairy are a few common ones. Usually they outgrow these things. I was very loath to cut anything out of my diet; I simply didn't want to deprive myself of whatever I felt like eating, and I love my ice cream and mac 'n' cheese. But I was also tired of being the "poop-nazi," carefully inspecting every diaper, waiting to see if she outgrew her apparent sensitivity with no action on my part. On a few separate occasions, I cut back on dairy and noticed some improvement. But then we'd have pizza for dinner or I'd have a little of this, a little of that and then we were back to mucus poops and fussiness. Finally, around 3.5months, I decided enough was enough: NO MORE DAIRY.

Even so, I eliminated only obvious dairy. I would still have baked goods, things fried in butter, etc. Again, Lily was not in poor health, I just knew she wasn't feeling well. Within a week of dairy elimination, the poop problems, gas and fussiness, and head-scratching were much improved. I seemed to have my answer. Lily seemed to be much happier for much more of the day, and I was very happy as well.

Q: Would it help if you switched to baby formula?

A. Seeing as formula is made from cow's Furthermore, many babies who are sensitive to dairy are also sensitive to soy (my non-scientific experimentation bears this out). That would have me paying top-dollar for nasty hypoallergenic formula. It's far less inconvenient for me to simply alter my diet and for Lily and me to keep receiving all the other benefits of breastfeeding. And what a travesty it would be to have switched to formula and gone through even more problems and detective work without having the option to go back to breastfeeding. For, when it comes to breastmilk, if you don't use it, you lose it.

Q: So, will she outgrow this?

A: All signs point to yes. When I first eliminated dairy, even slight deviations from the rule seemed to make her symptoms come roaring back. Now, if I happen to have something with a little cheese or one spoonful of ice cream, she seems unaffected. However, if I were to treat myself to a full serving of dairy, I believe we would pay for it.

Some of her issues remain. She still scratches her forehead, but we do a better job of keeping her tiny nails trimmed, so she no longer breaks the skin. She still gets nasal congestion and rubs her nose a lot. She still gets mucus in her diaper from time to time, but she no longer gets diarrhea. It's possible that she's sensitive to other foods (crazy fussiness this morning has me suspecting beef), but she's healthy and happy, and I know when to stop obsessing. Some of those closest to me might have trouble believing that, but I promise it's true! :)

Q: Isn't this so annoying for you? You love dairy! I couldn't live without dairy!

A: At first, it was a bit inconvenient. But I had long suspected a dairy intolerance of my own. Sure enough, once it was all out of my system, I truly did not miss it. I used to crave cheese like crazy, and now I don't crave it at all. When I'm with family and everyone else is having ice cream for dessert, I'm not the least bit jealous. I'm far less prone to bloating and digestive discomfort. I feel happier in general. I do not miss dairy. I plan on continuing to avoid it as a rule, even when Lily is weaned and enjoying cow's milk and cheese.

Food intolerances are more common than most people think, and this whole process has made me more aware of those foods that seem to trigger bad reactions in me. When certain foods are simply not an option, it makes me work harder to eat healthfully. I feel like my entire day-to-day life has improved. In short, I do not feel as though I have been sentenced to a sad, dairy-free existence. I am happy!

In conclusion...

Lily is a sensitive baby. Certain foods irritate her. She has very sensitive skin. Most lotions, body wash and detergents give her rashes. And now I'm finding with solid foods, very rarely does she have no reaction. Banana gives her a rash. Toast made her gassy. Potato (or maybe the little bit of onion or butter it was cooked with) gives her a rash. I've been calling myself lazy because I don't give her much solid food, but these sensitivities are the reason why I'm a little skittish. So, at seven months of age, she continues to be 99% breastfed. She doesn't need cereal or purees for nutrition and they don't serve any function in teaching her how to eat, so I'm going to keep giving her what's best and let everything else happen organically. is a well-respected source for breastfeeding information. A got a lot of my facts from here.


Lauren said...

great post susan! I am a firm believer that humans weren't "meant" to eat a ton of dairy, especially straight cow's milk. We are not baby calves. ;) I eat high quality, plain yogurt but that is pretty much it (minus the cheese on pizza!), but a lot of it here and in Italy is made from Goat's milk which is much closer to human milk. I am glad that Lily feels better! Many many many babies are intolerant of dairy proteins. If she was REALLY bad you would have to avoid all whey which is in a lot of processed food people do not even think about, cereals, baked goods,etc. :)

Anissa said...

I think I told you this, but Alex had similar issues as well when I was on dairy (and I was also restricted from broccoli). Luckily hers were short lived (and the opposite of Lily's problems), but people asked me the same things too! "Is she allergic to milk?"
I have a co-worker who's grandson is "allergic to milk" and supposedly a whole slew of other things too... but has basically the same problems as Lily, making me wonder how sure they really are that he's allergic to milk.

Susan K said...

I totally agree, Lauren! This is sacrilege to my milk-loving husband, but I have no interest in drinking baby-cow food.

Anissa, I think a lot of people use the term "allergy" as a catch-all, but I think it's important to distinguish!