If your baby is colicky, spits up a lot, or is generally miserable after nursing you may be dealing with a dairy intolerance.
Dairy intolerance in breastfed babies is increasingly common because of our poor gut health.
You see, baby inherits our gut health when she passes through the birth canal and if our gut health is not up to par (and most of ours aren’t because of the prevalence of processed foods, rancid cooking oils, and feed lot meats) baby ends up inheriting less than ideal gut flora (cesarean birthed babies inherit gut flora too, just usually from the skin).
On top of all that she had terrible reflux. She spit up all the time and her spit up was mucous-y, yuck! She also screamed after every feeding and I didn’t really know why.
Luckily I went to a La Leche League meeting with an amazing leader (who was also a lactation consultant) and started to get to the bottom of OG’s nursing and digestive problems. It turned out that she had a dairy allergy!
What is a Dairy intolerance in breastfed babies?
Whatever mom eats enters her breastmilk. Most of the time foods are digested before they turn into breastmilk but some proteins (dairy and egg, specifically) enter the breastmilk unchanged. It is thought that this occurs to introduce baby to what he may be eating later on in life. An intolerance is when baby reacts to the dairy proteins in mom’s milk. (source)
Does that mean baby is lactose intolerant?
No. Actually lactose is hardly ever the problem when babies react to dairy. Lactose is a sugar that is present in most milks, including human! Intolerances and allergies are typically a reaction to the protein from cow’s milk entering mom’s milk, not the sugar.
Dairy Intolerance in Breastfed Babies: Symptoms
- Frequent and/or painful gas
- Reflux and spit up that is mucous-y
- Black poop
- Green poop
- Other unusual digestive problems
- Screaming at the breast or after feeding
If you think your baby might have a dairy intolerance or sensitivity consult with your pediatrician. If they tell you that these symptoms are normal, find another pediatrician.
Dairy intolerance remedies
If you think your baby has a dairy intolerance you have some options for treatment.
Dairy Elimination Diet
Cut out all dairy from your diet for at least 2-3 weeks (cow’s milk protein can stay in your system for that long). If baby’s symptoms get better when you aren’t eating dairy then she probably does have a dairy intolerance. OG stopped spitting up almost immediately when I stopped eating dairy. She was much happier and didn’t cry for extended periods of time for seemingly no reason.
Here are some products that I use to replace dairy:
Butter: Soy-free Earth Balance, coconut oil, olive oil.
Milk: unsweetened almond milk. For a baby under one year I would be cautious of using a nut based milk. Coconut milk would be a good alternative.
Buttermilk: 1 Tablespoon of lemon juice or raw apple cider vinegar to 1 cup of non-dairy milk of choice.
Yogurt: Homemade coconut yogurt.
Chocolate chips:Enjoy Life chocolate chips, which are gluten, dairy and soy free.
After becoming dairy free you can test one dairy product at a time to see if it creates digestive problems. Some children might be okay with yogurt or butter. So far Olive is sensitive to all dairy. I haven’t tried it yet but Goat or sheep’s milk might be okay for your dairy sensitive baby. On the other hand, there has been research connecting cow’s milk sensitivity to beef allergies as well as sensitivity to goat, ewe and buffalo milk.
Though dairy allergies are the most common food allergy, many children are thought to grow out of it by 18 months – 3 years old.
However, I think sometimes we may believe that our child has outgrown their allergy because their symptoms appear to be gone when in reality their symptoms just changed with age. OG, for example, seemed to outgrow her allergy because she was no longer spitting up when I tried reintroducing dairy.
What really happened was she was showing her intolerance through other digestive symptoms like diarrhea (hard to notice with a breastfed baby sometimes).
That’s where gut healing comes in. Gut healing can actually heal the lining of the intestine so that the allergy or sensitivity can be resolved.
There are 3 basic principles to gut healing:
- Eliminate the allergen. In many cases other allergens, like gluten, should be eliminated too. Processed foods should also be avoided.
- Introduce probiotics through a supplement (I like this one) or fermented foods like sauerkraut.
- Heal the gut with homemade bone broth from organic pastured meat and poultry. You can cook veggies in bone broth and feed them to baby for him to get the benefits. This supplement is a good alternative when you don’t have a good source of quality meat available.
What is your experience with dairy intolerance in breastfed babies? Tell us in the commments!