If you’re looking for dairy-free breastfeeding diet tips and tricks, you’ve come to the right place!
Milk allergy, or cow’s milk protein allergy (CMPA), is one of the most common food allergies in children and infants.
In fact, an estimated 2.5% of children under age three are allergic to milk.
If your baby is showing signs or symptoms of a dairy intolerance or milk-protein allergy, your healthcare provider may recommend that you follow a dairy-free diet to see if symptoms improve.
As if raising a tiny human isn’t stressful enough, now you’ve been faced with the task of restricting an entire food group. I won’t lie. Removing dairy from your diet while breastfeeding is HARD. But I have witnessed many success stories from mommas just like you, so I know it’s possible.
This article will give you the rundown on a dairy-free breastfeeding diet, including which foods to avoid and simple swaps you can make to produce healthy milk for your kiddo.
Benefits of Breastfeeding
The American Academy for Pediatrics suggests exclusively breastfeeding for a minimum of six months. Breastfeeding is hands down the best source of nutrition for most babies. It also has health benefits for momma, too!
For example, it can protect you and your baby against illness and infection. Other scientifically proven, breastfeeding benefits include:
- Protecting babies against short-term and long-term illness
- Improving immunity
- Reduce the mother’s risk of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, breast cancer, and ovarian cancer
Milk Allergy VS Lactose Intolerance
So before we begin, what is the difference between a milk allergy and lactose intolerance? And how do you know which one your baby has?
The best way to determine if your baby has a milk allergy or lactose intolerance is by visiting your child’s pediatrician.
However, here are the quick and dirty details on the difference between the two.
Although the two share many similar symptoms, a true milk allergy involves an immune reaction to the protein found in milk. Because symptoms can range from mild to life-threatening, dairy products should be entirely avoided if your little one has a milk protein allergy.
A breastfed baby is at a lower risk of having a milk protein allergy than a formula-fed baby. Most of the time, dairy allergies show up days to weeks after they are first exposed to milk proteins.
In contrast, lactose intolerance happens when there are insufficient amounts of the enzyme lactase that is needed to break down lactose in food so the body can absorb it.
Lactose intolerance causes symptoms that are digestive in nature. While symptoms may be uncomfortable and cause fussiness, they are not life-threatening.
It is very rare for infants to be diagnosed with lactose intolerance. However, infants can become temporarily lactose intolerant after a stomach bug or taking antibiotics.
Signs of A Dairy Allergy in Breastfed Babies
Signs and symptoms of a dairy allergy in breastfed infants include:
- Frequent spit-up
- Bloody stools
- Fussiness or crying after a feeding
- A rash
- Difficulty breathing
In severe cases, a life-threatening condition called anaphylaxis can occur. If your baby has a milk allergy, always keep an epinephrine auto-injector on hand.
You may also notice that your baby is not growing as it should or has difficulty feeding.
Related: How to Make Breast Milk Fattier
Should You Go Dairy Free?
The first step in deciding whether you should go dairy-free is visiting your child’s pediatrician for accurate testing and diagnosis.
Diagnosing a milk allergy involves your provider taking a detailed medical history and information on precious reactions.
Types of testing for milk allergies include:
- Skin prick testing
- Blood tests
- Oral food challenge
Once you confirm that your little one has a cow’s milk protein allergy, it’s to decide if you should go dairy-free.
Although it sounds super intimidating at first, there’s actually a TON of dairy substitutes available at your local supermarket.
While it may seem overwhelming, it’s important to know that you can do it, and the most challenging part is actually making the change.
With that said, if you’re already stressed to the max and feel like you can’t add one more thing to your plate, don’t stress.
If, after careful consideration, you opt for infant formula designed for babies with CMPA, don’t beat yourself up. Your mental health should always be a priority, and your baby will still turn out just fine if you choose to discontinue breastfeeding.
How to Do a Dairy Elimination Diet
If you aren’t exactly sure what is causing your baby’s symptoms, starting an elimination diet can be helpful.
In short, the main goal of an elimination diet while breastfeeding is to improve your child’s symptoms while getting to the root cause.
Elimination diets can be mentally draining, especially while breastfeeding. As such, be sure to work closely with your doctor or registered dietitian to make it more bearable and ensure you still meet your nutrient requirements.
If you suspect your baby has a dairy allergy, it’s best to start by eliminating dairy.
To do this, eliminate all dairy products from your diet for two to four weeks. If your symptoms remain the same after four weeks, move on to another food.
Other common food allergens include:
- Tree nuts
I always recommend that moms also avoid soy products because babies with a cow’s milk protein allergy are at a high risk of having or developing a soy allergy.
In fact, an estimated 50% of infants with CMPA can also have cross-reactivity with soy protein.
Foods that Contain Soy Ingredients
Foods to avoid that contain soy include:
- Hydrolyzed plant protein (HPP)
- Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP)
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG)
- Soy protein
- Textured vegetable protein
What Foods Contain Dairy
You probably won’t realize just how many foods contain dairy until you begin to eliminate it.
- Cow’s milk products
- Ice cream
- Artificial butter flavor
- Cottage cheese
- Cream cheese
- Condensed milk
- High protein flour
- Creamy soups
- Half & half
- Dry milk solids
- Sour milk solids
- Milk chocolate
Unfortunately, the list goes on. However, it’s important to know that it is possible to meet your nutritional needs without dairy.
I know you’re thinking WTF?! What can I eat? The good news is that there are SO many dairy alternatives.
While dining out may be more difficult, you can make a few simple swaps at home to stick to your dairy-free diet.
As we know, cow’s milk is an excellent source of calcium and vitamin D that we need for healthy, strong bones.
The recommended daily intake of calcium for breastfeeding moms is 1,300 milligrams per day.
Choose dairy-free milk alternatives that are fortified with calcium and vitamin D. Examples include:
- Rice milk
- Almond milk
- Hemp milk
- Oat milk
- Cashew milk
You’ll also want to continue giving your baby vitamin D supplements as they generally do not contain cow’s milk protein.
If you find it difficult to meet your daily calcium needs, you can discuss taking a calcium carbonate supplement with your healthcare provider. Remember, your body can only absorb 500 milligrams at a time, so you may need to split your dose between breakfast and dinner.
You can also choose soy and milk protein-free margarine or vegetable and plant oils in place of butter when cooking or baking.
Related: Is Collagen Safe While Breastfeeding?
Tips For Going Dairy Free
Here, I’ve compiled a few tips and tricks to make the transition as easy as possible.
Read Food Labels
I can’t stress this one enough. Because so many foods are heavily processed these days, dairy lingers in many foods you wouldn’t expect.
Thankfully, in 2006, the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) went into effect, which requires the eight major allergens to be listed on food labels using names that are easy to recognize.
There are two main ways to include an allergen on a food label:
- Listing the common name of the ingredient with the allergen in parenthesis. Example: Casein (milk), Cream (milk), or Lecithin (soy).
- Highlighting that the product contains certain allergens following the ingredient list. Example: This product contains: milk, soy, etc.
As with any diet that requires restrictions, planning ahead is a must. Trust me on this one. It will help alleviate a ton of stress. I personally recommend searching for recipes throughout the week and saving them, making a grocery list on Saturday, and grocery shopping and meal prepping on Sunday. To help save time, I am a HUGE fan of online grocery pickup. Huge money saver. Plus, you can view the nutrition labels as you go so you can be 100% certain your items are free of dairy or soy.
Remember, eggs are not dairy. Neither is human breast milk. It only becomes an issue when the milk proteins travel through your milk supply.
Ok, so this is where it can turn into a big ole hot mess if you aren’t careful.
When eating out, be sure to:
- Read the restaurant’s menu ahead of time (if able). Although it is not required, many restaurants provide written allergen statements on their menu.
- Try to get there early to speak with the manager or kitchen staff about options you have
- Carry snacks with you just in case a restaurant cannot accommodate you
Foods to order from a restaurant include:
- Salads without cheese and oil-based dressing
- Hamburger and fries
- Sandwiches without cheese
- Pasta with red sauces
Find A Support System
Remember, there are so many mommas just like you who are going through the same thing. I think it is so important to find a community of moms who are or have been in the same situation. You can bounce ideas back and forth and share tips and tricks.
How Much Time Does it Take For the Milk Proteins to Leave Breastmilk?
Unfortunately, that question is impossible to answer. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there is no official timeline on this. However, it can take several weeks before the milk protein fully disappears after following a dairy-free diet.
What Does a Dairy-Free Breastfeeding Diet Look Like?
When you are restricting foods in your diet, it’s important to make up for lost nutrients and calories by eating more foods that you can enjoy.
Additionally, include the following foods in your diet:
- Fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel
- Vegetables such as broccoli, asparagus, corn, green beans, brussels sprouts, onions, garlic, kale, etc.
- Fruits including oranges, kiwi, melon, berries, avocado
- Whole grains
- Lean protein
- Beans and legumes
- Nuts and seeds
And be sure to enjoy all the foods you crave, including dessert. For soy-free, dairy-free dessert recipes, I highly recommend you check out this post by One Green Planet.
Sample Day of Eating on a Dairy-Free Diet
Breakfast: Whole-wheat avocado toast with scrambled eggs OR oatmeal with berries and nut butter
Snack: Pretzels, fruit, Wheat Thins, a handful of nuts, etc.
Lunch: Chicken stir-fry with lots of veggies
Snack: Cereal with non-dairy milk and fresh fruit
Dinner: Pot roast with potatoes and vegetables
As if the struggle bus raising an infant isn’t real enough, to find out you also have to avoid dairy/or soy products can really rock the boat.
Although it may seem scary, so many mommas, just like you, have made a few adjustments to keep their baby breastfed and happy.
When avoiding dairy or soy, the single most important thing you can do is read food labels and plan ahead. In some cases, your little one may even be able to tolerate small amounts of dairy.
And if, for some reason, you just can’t make the recommended dietary changes, relax and do not be too hard on yourself. There are infant formulas available to nourish and support your little one’s growth and development.
As always, you should contact your pediatrician if you suspect your infant has a dietary allergy to milk. If you need to follow an elimination diet, always do so under the supervision of your doctor or registered dietitian.
How long does a dairy-free diet take to work breastfeeding?
Although it depends from person to person, you can expect your little one’s symptoms to resolve in about 10 to 20 days after removing dairy from your diet. In some cases, it can take several weeks.
How do I know if dairy is affecting my baby?
If your infant is breaking out in a rash, experiencing facial swelling, having digestive difficulties, or having trouble gaining weight, consider consulting with your child’s pediatrician to rule out a cow’s milk protein allergy.
What can I eat on a dairy-free breastfeeding diet?
The best foods to eat on a dairy-free breastfeeding diet include lean protein, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, healthy fats, and dairy-free milk alternatives or other foods fortified with calcium and vitamin D.
How can I replace dairy while breastfeeding?
You can replace the nutrients in dairy by ensuring you are getting optimal amounts of protein through lean meat and legumes, as well as calcium and vitamin D from fatty fish and fortified dairy-free milk. Your doctor may also recommend a calcium supplement if you find it challenging to meet your calcium needs.