A Year Without Milk Products
By Shannon Caster
Within days after Nathan was born, he started vomiting. Not a little spit up, but full-blown projectile vomiting. Along with the vomiting, came gas, bloating, fussiness, diarrhea, and lots of crying. Confused as to the cause of his symptoms, we scheduled what would be the first of many appointments with pediatricians and newborn specialists.
Nathan was born full term, after a healthy pregnancy. We welcomed Nathan, our second child, 19 months after our daughter was born. Within the first three days we realized something was amiss when the vomiting started. At his 1-week baby check, he was down half a pound from his birth weight. Doctors ran blood work, did ultrasounds to rule out pyloric stenosis (failure of the stomach to empty out food), and suggested upright feeding and sleeping positions. After two weeks of doctor’s appointments, he was diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux. We were given two separate medications to control the reflux. Since almost half of all infants have some degree of reflux the first three months of life, we were hopeful this was our answer.
“Continuing to breastfeed was the easy part. Removing all traces of dairy in my diet was trickier.”
Three weeks and several doctor visits later, Nathan continued to vomit and lose weight. After nursing, his entire meal would come back up. This was followed by screaming pleas to be fed again. I nursed almost every hour attempting to keep food in Nathan’s little stomach. Out of answers, we were referred to a specialist at Children’s Hospital. It was here Nathan was diagnosed with an allergy to the protein in cow’s milk, almost like being lactose intolerant. The difference is that while Nathan produced the necessary enzymes to digest lactose, it was the protein in cow’s milk causing his symptoms. Switching to a lactose-free baby formula wouldn’t necessarily help Nathan’s allergy. The solution: stop nursing and put him on a hypoallergenic infant formula or rid my diet of all foods containing cow’s milk that would pass through my breast milk. I opted for a dairy-free diet with the support of specialists at Children’s Hospital.
Continuing to breastfeed was the easy part. Removing all traces of dairy in my diet was trickier. I had no aversion to what irritated Nathan’s stomach, made him fussy and caused him to vomit. It wasn’t as obvious to me when I ate something that would cause discomfort and pain in my newborn son. I scrutinized every ingredient in what I ate. If the label said “may contain milk,” I avoided it. I purchased enough soy and rice milk to feed 10 nursing women, and began my routine of calcium supplements under my physician’s guidance. The calcium supplements were essential for my health. Without dairy in my diet, much needed calcium could be taken from my bones if I didn’t have a good source of calcium.
The next few weeks Nathan’s vomiting, fussiness, and general irritability greatly improved. He gained weight quickly, and I enjoyed moments of peace around the house. My battle was just beginning. As cravings set in, I found myself mesmerized by food commercials. How I wanted a huge plate of nachos topped with sour cream followed by a hot fudge sundae.
Within two weeks, cravings subsided and I relished how peaceful Nathan slept with a full belly. I found myself at baby showers munching on carrots and snow peas (which I hated before now) without a care in the world. I ordered salads at restaurants topped with Italian dressing. I passed up brownies, chocolate, and ice cream without a flinch. Nathan and I had found our dairy-free diet.
By his 3-month baby check, Nathan was free of his vomiting and related symptoms. Weighing in the 50th percentile, he had caught up to his peers in weight. Nathan was happy, healthy and meeting all the developmental marks of a 3-month-old. Nathan’s pediatrician encouraged breastfeeding for as long as I could.
A month later, our hometown was hit with the second largest blizzard on record. The raging storm left five feet of snow in its wake, shutting down the entire area the next four days. On top of the blizzard, Nathan ran out of his acid reflux medications. Unable to get to the pharmacy, which was closed anyway, we braced for the worse. To our amazement, Nathan never spit up or fussed out of stomach irritation the entire four days. When the pharmacy opened up the following week, we opted to keep Nathan off his medication. We will never know if Nathan outgrew his acid reflux or if the change in diet was his saving factor. Either way, we found nursing success.
The next eight months flew by. Nathan eventually weaned by sheer nature of eating solid foods, drinking juice, and even cow’s milk from a sippy cup. Pediatric specialists predicted he would outgrow his cow milk protein allergy, as some babies do around 1 year. With a slow introduction of cheese and other dairy products, we found Nathan’s adverse reaction was a thing of the past. No more vomiting, no more painful stomach irritation, no more label reading. We were blessed with a healthy, happy toddler who has no memory of his year without dairy.
Honestly, I can’t remember the first dairy product I had after I stopped nursing. I do know Nathan’s favorite foods are chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, and chocolate ice cream. Three years later, we are blessed with a very healthy, active preschooler who eats anything in sight. He’s the best eater in our house with no known food allergies to date.