When Ella was about 6 weeks old, I began to suspect something was wrong. Her dirty diapers looked weird, she was projectile vomiting yet didn’t seem in pain from acid reflux, and had really horrible bouts with gas. After further research, I began to wonder if she had a dairy intolerance or outright allergy. It was really really hard, but I cut out all sources of dairy out of my diet. Not just the obvious things like milk, cheese, yogurt, and icecream but also things that had “hidden dairy” like crackers, bread, and weird things like Walmart’s brand of chicken broth that had dairy products as an ingredient.
That was so hard. It was probably one of the biggest sacrifices I made as a new mom. Not only was my self identity rapidly changing and sleep gone, but I had to rewire my entire thinking about meal planning, snacks, and grocery shopping. I distinctly remember standing in a grocery store aisle with tears running down my face because my favorite crackers had dairy in them.
Before we go much further, let me assure you that my daughter is not lactose intolerant. Leslie, on her blog, explains things much better than I could.
After being completely dairy free for six weeks, I finally began to see resolution in Ella’s digestive issues. Another side effect of going dairy free is that I discovered she slept better, too! Looking back, I realize that is because I would drink a glass of milk at dinner time and have some sort of dairy product (apples and cheese, icecream, what have you) as an after dinner snack or treat. The dairy protein would work its way into my breast milk just about the time I would be wanting to go to bed. Ella would nurse and then 15 to 20 minutes later, be up fussing, spitting up, and generally upset.
When she was about 9 months old and getting started on solid food, I began to experiment with reintroducing dairy to my diet. To my amazement and glee, I discovered that I could use butter and I could consume baked goods that had milk in them, like crackers. Items like custard filled donuts or danishes with baked cream cheese were still out, though.
I also experienced first hand the concept of the “bucket effect”. This is the idea that a body can handle a set amount of allergens before it shows a reaction because the allergy bucket is full to overflowing. As she grew into an incredibly active toddler and began to nurse less, I found that I could enjoy a small serving of pasta with Parmesan cheese or a slice of pizza about once a week. This kept my dairy cravings at bay while not upsetting her dairy bucket.
The hardest thing, by far, was readjusting my view of food and how to meal plan. I’d say that 90% of our meals had some form of dairy in it. From Italian bread crumbs (Parmesan cheese), to a milk/cream based soup, it was quite the challenge. Toss in there a husband who is rather particular about what he will or will not eat, I felt like climbing Mount Everest would be an easier trek.
I was really excited to discover that all recipes offers a search function that only brings up dairy free recipes! That really got my imagination started as to what we could actually eat without depriving ourselves down to plain rice, steamed veggies, and unseasoned meat. Today, I have quite the collection of dairy free dishes in my recipe binder that are toddler and husband approved! It meal planning much simpler now.
Still, I make mistakes. A few months ago, I decided to do something REALLY stupid. I made cheesy potatoes and ham and let her have some. Thirty minutes later, she broke out in a full body rash with hives. That was one miserable night. Even though the benadryl allowed her to sleep and cleared up the hives, her rash lingered for at least two weeks. Her pediatrician referred us to an allergy specialist to have testing done to confirm her dairy allergy/intolerance and to double check that she doesn’t have any other food allergies, like I do to avocados and bananas.
I imagine things will get harder as Ella becomes older and goes over to friends houses during a meal time. We’ll just have to be villigant in explaining to her what she can or cannot eat. Even now, when we’re hanging out with friends during a snack time, I can tell her that what her friend is eating will give her owies in her tummy and she won’t eat it! It gives me hope that if we simply make this a part of our life, she’ll be able to adapt life situations to fit her needs.