Breastfeeding a baby with reflux and going dairy-free can be daunting. My daughter was only a few weeks old when she was diagnosed with severe reflux. She was gaining weight very slowly and vomiting all the time. Even on medication, she wasn’t improving, so I trialed a dairy-free (and later soy-free) diet and we saw a big improvement. We later found out she had a cow’s milk protein allergy, soy allergy, and severe reflux. I was determined to continue breastfeeding my baby and so set about researching going dairy-free. This is a guide to everything I discovered.
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Should I go dairy-free while breastfeeding?
There is no need to cut dairy out of your diet if your baby is not showing any reactions. If your baby is just gassy or fussy during or after feeds this could be due to their immature digestive system. This will improve with time. However, if your baby shows other symptoms such as slow weight gain, vomiting, diarrhea, eczema or wheezing they may be having a reaction to cow’s milk protein in your breastmilk. By trialing a dairy-free diet you will see if your baby shows any improvement. You should always do this with the advice of your GP or health visitor.
If your baby is vomiting, showing slow weight gain, very fussy and showing problems with feeding they may be suffering from reflux. There are different things you can try and lots of tips that can improve your baby’s symptoms. If you have tried this and you are not seeing an improvement then trialing the dairy-free diet may be your next step.
What are the symptoms of a cow’s milk protein allergy?
For more information about a cow’s milk protein allergy read my post: Does my baby have a milk allergy?
I found that my baby was still showing symptoms of a reaction even after being on a dairy-free diet for several weeks. Then I was advised to try a soy-free diet as well and found that her symptoms started to clear up. Her reaction had continued because I had substituted cow’s milk products for soya and she was reacting to this.
How long does it take dairy to get out of your breastmilk?
I was advised by my GP that it could take up to 6 weeks to see the full effect of going dairy-free when breastfeeding. It takes 3 weeks for most of the cow’s milk protein to have left your body, as well as time for any reactions to heal.
Some babies can tolerate small amounts of cow’s milk in breastmilk and others (like my baby) can tolerate none. If your baby seems fine when you eat small amounts then keep doing it as it is helping to build their tolerance to cow’s milk proteins.
When will I see an improvement in my baby?
Within a few days of going dairy-free I saw small improvements, my baby wasn’t vomiting as frequently and I wasn’t having to change her nappy as often.
Within two weeks her most obvious symptoms had reduced – less vomiting (this didn’t clear up completely because of her severe reflux), no diarrhea, wheezing had improved, gaining weight.
Within six weeks and on a dairy and soy-free diet her dry and blotchy skin cleared up, she gained a lot of weight, she became so much happier (no fussing when feeding), slept better and her persistent cough went.
Check out this practical guide for dealing with sleep, weaning, leaving the house and helping your baby to improve their symptoms.
How do I avoid dairy?
These are my top tips when you are on a free from diet:
- Read the labels on all your food packaging and be aware of hidden sources of dairy. Kids with food allergies website have this great printable list of hidden ingredients to look for.
- Cook from scratch as often as possible then you know exactly what ingredients you are putting into your meals.
- Search online if you aren’t sure if a product is dairy-free. Supermarkets will also have a list of free-from products in their store.
- Restaurants often put a list of free-from meals on their website so check before you go
- Pinterest is full of free-from recipe ideas
- Join Instagram and search for dairy-free. People post photos of products they have found or bargains currently in the shops.
Which foods can I eat?
Knowing what to buy at the supermarket can be a headache. Alongside my fresh weekly ingredients (vegetables, meat, fish, fruit) these are the specific free from things I like to buy (I have to buy dairy-free, soy-free and gluten-free):
Vitalite – a great alternative to butter that actually tastes nice
Sweet Freedom do great tasting choc pots and syrups.
Almond milk, oat milk and hazelnut milk are favourites in our house – oat milk is good for cereals and pancakes, almond milk is great for baking with and drinking, hazlenut milk makes yummy hot chocolates and my daughter even thinks it’s chocolate milk.
If you don’t need to go soy-free there is a huge range of soya products available
A cheaper and tastier alternative to buying free-from bread every week is to invest in a bread maker and wake up to fresh bread every day. Remember to get one that can do free-from recipes. We use the Panasonic Breadmaker which has a gluten free programme. I bake a normal white loaf using vitalite spread and it is delicious. I also bake a gluten free loaf which is very good. The children like to make pizza dough using the vitalite spread – this ia a great alternative to shop bought because I know exactly which topping my daughter can put on.
Do I need to take vitamins on a dairy-free diet?
Yes. You need to take a calcium supplement and this should be provided by your GP to make sure you are taking the correct strength while breastfeeding.
How do I increase my milk supply?
When you are breastfeeding a baby it is really important to take care of yourself and your diet, especially if you are on a restricted diet. Initially, my baby was put onto a hypoallergenic formula alongside breastfeeding because she was so mall and needed to gain weight quickly. However, I really wanted to continue breastfeeding her and slowly she transitioned back to mostly breastmilk. This is what I did to increase my supply:
- Nursed as frequently as she needed and spent a few days just nursing day and night
- You can also take Pregnacare Breastfeeding vitamins which help both you and baby
- Pumping alongside her normal feeds (I’m not going to pretend this is easy, it’s exhausting and frustrating as you basically do nothing else for a few days, but it’s worth it).
- Drink lots of water – I found this made a big difference
- Eat often day and night
- Rest when you can. You are doing a tough job and deserve a break.
- Switch sides when you are nursing so baby feeds on both.
- Let baby comfort suck as this will stimulate your breasts to produce more milk.
When do I reintroduce dairy to my diet?
Once you have established that your baby reacts to the protein in cow’s milk and on the advice of a medical professional you will need to think about when to reintroduce dairy to your diet. I was advised to keep my daughter dairy and soy-free until she had reached one year old because even though her allergy was non-IgE her reactions were quite severe and had impacted her weight gain significantly. Also, I was advised that while breastfeeding her I should introduce small amounts of dairy back into my diet to see if I could find a level of cow’s milk her body could tolerate. I tried the first step of the milk ladder – eating a small amount of biscuit with milk baked into it as it is easier to digest. My daughter still reacted to this so I am remaining on a dairy and soy-free diet until we finish breastfeeding.