Are you a nursing mother who needs to stop eating dairy for your nursling's health?
Are you wondering how you will ever survive without milk, cheese, ice cream, yogurt?

Never fear! You can do it!

 
If you're still not sure you need to go dairy-free, these articles from La Leche League may be helpful:

La Leche League also publishes a pamphlet on allergies as they relate to breastfeeding, with information on how to detect and reduce baby's exposure to allergens, how allergies occur, and how to help prevent allergies in subsequent children. It is entitled simply "Allergies" and is available both in English and Spanish through their online catalogue (currently unavailable -- visit La Leche League's Breastfeeding and Allergies resource page or contact a local LLL Leader for more information).

Dr. Jay Gordon's site includes a really thorough article which also discusses how to diagnose a dairy reaction in your nursling, with links to several other very informative pages.

If you're unsure that dairy is the problem, Dr. and Martha Sears outline an elimination diet at their site.

It is extremely important to know that, in breastfeeding mothers, an oversupply or foremilk-hindmilk imbalance can mimic, or worsen, allergic reactions in the baby. Oversupply can sometimes be misdiagnosed as not having enough milk, when in reality, the opposite is true. This FAQ on oversupply, and the FAQ on "Foremilk, Hindmilk and Lactose" which is linked about halfway through, can give you a lot more information on how to figure out if you have an oversupply, and what to do if you do.

Finally, Kelly's AP has a nice, concise guide on the hows and whys of going off dairy, and when and how to start re-introducing dairy foods later.

It is very important to remember why you are going to the trouble of removing dairy from your diet. Sure, you're looking forward to the immediate benefit of a happier, less gassy, less itchy, less fussy baby. But you are also doing this because, as referenced in the articles above, you are greatly reducing your baby's risk of a lifelong allergy by minimizing his or her exposure to this allergen now. This is a general rule of parenting: every effort you make for your baby will be returned a thousandfold as he or she grows up!


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Once you've committed to living dairy-free (for now), what's on the menu?

First, there are still plenty of things you can eat, like:

Areas where you must tread more carefully:

There are some other useful substitution ideas at the GoDairyFree site.

How does one live dairy-free?

To start off, I would suggest planning a special trip to the grocery store. Expect to spend an hour or more in the aisles, just this once. Read labels on everything you might want to eat, looking for milk, butter, dried milk, yogurt, cheese, casein, whey, sodium caseinate, lactose (and other things that start with "lact", although sodium lactylate is non-dairy)... Read all labels -- check the bread, check the hot dogs and bologna, check things that say "non-dairy" like non-dairy creamer and Cool Whip (as mentioned above, these both contain dairy). Fill your cart with things that are "clean". Bring it all home and stuff your shelves with "yes" foods, and focus on everything you can eat instead of the things you can't.

Once you've got your house stocked, make some food and put it in the fridge for later. As soon as you start getting hungry, eat a little something. Don't let yourself get to the point where you're ravenously hungry and craving some forbidden (dairy-filled) treat, because once you're there, none of your new "yes" foods will look even remotely appetizing to you. In the first week or two of your new dairy-free diet, you may even find it helpful to set a timer to remind yourself to eat a bit every few hours.

As hinted at above, often if a major label product contains small amounts of dairy ingredients, the store-brand or other cheaper knock-off versions might not. For example, Oreos may contain dairy*, but my local grocery store sells a store brand knock-off called "Tuxedos" -- they come in regular, double stuff, chocolate creme or mint creme and they are delicious and dairy-free. Similarly, I can eat my grocery store's version of English muffins, even though Thomas's contains dairy.

[*Oreos update: as of May, 2005, many packages of Oreos no longer list whey as an ingredient. I have been unable to find a definitive answer as to whether the recipe has changed and Oreos are now reliably dairy-free worldwide. Repeated contacts with Nabisco have produced a variety of answers It may be a regional variation (some places have whey in their Oreos and some don't). If your package of Oreos mentions dairy on the nutrition panel, I hear Newman-O's are dairy-free and delicious, as are Kinnikinnick Foods' KinniToos, and all of the Famous Amos sandwich cookies!]

As also hinted at above, you can't assume that, just because one version of a product is safe, all other versions will be safe too. If you want to keep buying a particular brand but you want to change from salted to unsalted, or from low-fat to no fat (or to "full" fat), make sure you read the label!

Look at the Kosher designations on many packaged foods -- anything marked "Parve" or "Pareve" is dairy-free and safe to eat. Anything marked "Kosher Dairy" may or may not be safe to eat; Kosher laws require that foods that are processed in facilities where dairy foods are also processed be marked "Kosher Dairy," but if you read the ingredients, you may see no dairy ingredients actually in the food. If you were dealing with true anaphylactic dairy allergy, you'd have to avoid these foods due to risk of cross-contamination, but I personally don't observe that level of care in this situation. Similarly, anything marked with a circled U with the letters "DE" next to it contains no dairy ingredients, but was produced on machinery that is also used for production of dairy foods -- again, only a problem for a severe dairy allergy. Any meat product that has a kosher symbol is totally non-dairy.

Similarly, some of the natural flavorings that are added to products contain trace amounts of butter or other dairy ingredients. Not all manufacturers reflect this on their labels. Generally, this small an amount of dairy is not enough to cause a problem for a nursling, but it is something to be aware of. (And please do remember, this webpage is intended solely for breastfeeding mothers whose babies are reacting to dairy in the maternal diet; people with galactosemia or true milk allergies may find that the recommendations contained herein are not sufficiently stringent!)

As I noted above, pretty much all authentic Asian food is dairy-free, but any other restaurant can be suspect. Even innocent-seeming steaks and chicken cutlets are often buttered after they come off the grill, and toasted or grilled buns are usually buttered as well. Unless you are willing to make a real pain of yourself with the waiter, eating out may be more trouble than it's worth. (You can spend all the money you save on Tofutti Cuties) As far as fast food goes, I know that Wendy's, Subway, Burger King, and McDonald's have dairy-free menu items (those links go to the ingredient information sections of their respective websites). I'm told that each Panera Bread location has a binder you can ask to see that lists the ingredients for each of their products, so you can look for something "clean". Note that Chick-Fil-A dips all of their breaded chicken products in a milk-and-egg wash before breading and cooking, and they buy their buns from local bakeries (which means that the recipe and ingredients may vary slightly from one restaurant to another). Also note that McDonald's shows dairy in their fries (as a component of the "natural beef flavor" that they add) on the ingredients page.

When you go to the health-food store, anything marked Vegan is by definition dairy (and egg) free. If you go to a large chain health food store like Trader Joe's or Whole Foods, check at the customer service desk before you start shopping; my local branches of these stores offer free pamphlets listing every dairy-free item they stock -- very handy!

There are a few over-the-counter medications that contain whey or lactose, or other dairy ingredients, so check your vitamins, etc.

Speaking of vitamins, you might want to take a calcium supplement (calcium and magnesium combined together in a 2:1 ratio are easiest for your body to use), at least until you get used to your new diet. Cow's milk is actually not the greatest source of calcium, but it's still the main source for most Americans at least. Better sources of calcium include broccoli, tofu, almonds and seeds (like sesame and sunflower), fish with edible bones (like sardines), and lots more. If you do decide to take a supplement, you should split the dose so that you're taking half the total RDA in the morning and half at bedtime. Your body can't assimilate a full day's RDA at one time, so splitting the dose is the best way to utilize the supplement, plus taking some cal/mag at bedtime can give you better quality sleep. (More on milk and osteoporosis here.) Note that, if you are taking an iron supplement for any reason, you should make sure to take your iron supplement at a different time of day from the calcium and magnesium. Both of these minerals compete with iron for absorption and will significantly decrease the amount of iron available for your body to use.

Here are some useful web pages:

Also, if you have access to vegan recipes and foods, that's another great source...

Finally, try to find some support. Eating a restricted diet is work and it can be a real pain in the neck, especially when you're first getting the hang of it, to constantly have to think about your food and whether every little morsel is okay to eat. You're going to need a place or a person that you can go to and feel safe to whine and complain and vent about how much you miss [insert your favorite forbidden food here]. La Leche League meetings are often a supportive place to talk to other nursing moms who are in this situation, and you can feel confident that no one is going to tell you, "just go ahead and wean the kid to soy formula and then you can eat whatever you want." *grin* Similarly, there are several good mailing lists and web forums for parents of allergic kids (many linked above) where you can find a listening ear and a supportive shoulder.

Good luck -- it can be done!

Help me make this page better! Email me your tips and suggestions!


Notes

- A significant percentage of infants with an allergy to dairy will also react to soy, so you may not want to rely on soy-based products to make up a large part of your dairy-free diet.


Disclaimer: Please note, this page is intended for nursing moms who need to remove dairy from their diet for the health and well-being of their nurslings. Although I link to online sources intended for those with true dairy allergies or galactosemia, the information discussed on this page is not intended for use by individuals with those conditions. This page is not to be construed as medical advice, but is only the representation of many many months' personal experience eating a dairy-free diet.

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This page is also available as a PDF file for download. Please do not edit or alter this document in any way before distributing it. Also, to make sure that the PDF version is up-to-date with the web version, check the "Last edited" date at the bottom of both -- if they don't match, email me and ask me to update the PDF doc for you.

© 2003-14 J.L. Moquin

Last edited 1/30/13