How To Start A Dairy Free Breastfeeding Diet

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Do you think you might need to start a dairy free breastfeeding diet? It’s not easy–dairy is in everything! But it IS doable. This post explains how to get started.

When my first baby, Little Bo, was six months old, I was alarmed one afternoon to find a streak of blood in her diaper.

At first I wasn’t sure what it was: It looked like pink mucus. My daughter’s stools had always been kinda mucousy, ever since she had her tongue tie released at 5 weeks old. I assumed that all the drool that happened post-release was being swallowed and finding its way into her diaper. She was also an early teether: 10 weeks. Everyone told me it was normal.

Her skin issues were usually limited to tiny patches (<–photo) of slightly-bumpy pink that would appear here and there on occasion and would disappear just as fast as they showed up without causing any bother. Everyone said that was normal too. “Baby eczema.” She would outgrow it. And her gas and reflux? Also normal: A function of my oversupply and fast letdown.

Before and after picture of a dairy-sensitive baby's back and eczema flare up
Right: A flare of of Little Bo’s eczema. Some moms told me they thought it was hives. It didn’t seem to bother her and didn’t seem itchy. This was the worst flare up she ever had. Left: Her back one day later. More often than not her skin looked totally normal with small patches of normal-colored bumpy skin here and there that would come and go.

But blood? No way was that normal. So I did what any good first time mom would do: I stormed my pediatrician’s office with a fresh sample. Her diaper tested positive for occult–or invisible, microscopic–blood.

I won’t post in-your-face poop pictures (you’re welcome), but if you’re a new mom curious what dairy intolerance looks in stool, you can check out photos here and here. Not all dairy intolerant babies have stool with copious amounts of blood!

Little Bo had a food sensitivity. And since I was determined to breastfeed, I needed to cut dairy from my diet.

To say it was overwhelming is an understatement. Dairy is in EVERYTHING!

If you need or want to get started on a dairy-free diet for your babe, here is what you need to know:

NOT SURE HOW TO CUT DAIRY FROM YOUR DIET?

You’re not alone! Get all of the tips in this post at your fingertips by downloading your copy of my dairy-free diet cheat sheet!

HOW TO START A DAIRY FREE BREASTFEEDING DIET

1) FAMILIARIZE YOURSELF WITH DAIRY

Lactose-free isn’t enough! Dairy proteins also affect a dairy-sensitive baby. Dairy, for the purposes of this kind of elimination diet, is usually defined as anything coming from cow’s milk: cheese, butter, buttermilk, milk, yogurt, ghee, milk kefir, and so on.

Eggs are not dairy.

Human breast milk is not dairy, although it can contain dairy proteins since they can pass through human milk if mom eats dairy.

Goat’s milk and goat’s milk products will often cause the same kind of reaction as dairy, so it’s best to avoid that too.

There are a lot of hidden names for dairy, too, and sometimes manufacturers can get away with including TINY quantities of these offending substances in their products without having to disclose it in the “Contains” section where allergens are listed (usually found below the ingredients list in the US). Products labeled “Dairy-Free” ARE in fact dairy free. Products labeled “Non-Dairy” are NOT necessarily free of dairy!

Some names for hidden dairy include:  Casein, Caseinates, Curds, Custard, Half & Half, Nougat, Paneer, Pudding, Rennet, Koumiss and Whey, to name a few. You can see a more complete list here.

THE ULTIMATE DAIRY-FREE BREASTFEEDING COURSE

You don’t have to switch to formula. All the answers are in these easy-to-digest (pun intended) video lessons.

2) READ INGREDIENTS LISTS

Now that you know how dairy needs to be defined for this kind of diet, you’re going to want to read ingredients lists! You will start to find dairy in places you would never expect, like taco seasoning packets or wine or chicken tenders, and not finding it in places you would expect, like Oreos.

That’s right. Oreos are dairy-free. You’re welcome.

Ingredients list for a popular non-dairy creamer
This is the ingredients list for a popular non-dairy creamer. Note that in contains Sodium Caseinate, a milk derivative! It goes on to say it is not a source of lactose, which for our purposes means nothing.

Seems crazy, right? Like there’s no way that these teeny dairy particles should make a difference, right?

They can.

I accidentally ate a chicken strip from Ikea that I thought was dairy free, only to find blood in my daughter’s stool 6 hours later. It turns out Ikea’s chicken strips get a milk bath prior to being battered and fried. *Facepalm*

Lesson learned: Read the ingredients list. All of it.

3) MAKE SUBSTITUTIONS

Vegan (for sure) and Paleo (usually) recipes are dairy-free, so they are a great place to go when you’re looking for some tasty dairy-free recipes. And a quick search for dairy-free recipes on Pinterest is a must-do!

A lot of the time you will find yourself substituting things like coconut milk or almond milk for regular milk. Coconut cream can be a substitute for regular cream as well. But DON’T try to substitute these things into your favorite recipe willy nilly. Coconut milk tastes like, well, coconut, and that’s not necessarily going to taste good in everything. Recipes created to be dairy-free usually have other ingredients that hide or make use of any odd flavors these milk substitutes might bring out.


Earth Balance makes dairy free butter, and brands like So Delicious and Daiya make dairy free products. Unfortunately, these can be expensive, and half the time don’t taste as good as the real deal. Dairy-free cheese, in my opinion, tastes like cardboard. And I don’t want to spend a fortune on food that tastes like cardboard!

So personally, I steer away from a lot of dairy-free packaged food. I actually SAVE money on groceries eating dairy-free! And I eat a lot healthier, since dairy is in a lot of packaged, fast and restaurant food we ALL probably shouldn’t be eating anyway.

Almond milk used during a dairy free breastfeeding diet
After months of not drinking cow’s milk, it’s so gross to me now! I drink almond milk instead.

Pro-Tip: In things like sandwiches, tacos, and other places that make sense, you can substitute avocado for cheese! It won’t taste like cheese, of course, but it will add a good texture and good fat to your meal (assuming you like avocado, of course).

4) FIGURE OUT WHERE YOU CAN SPLURGE

Eating dairy-free doesn’t have to suck the joy out of eating. It can actually be delicious! The key is to figure out what you like. If you like the fake cheese and have the budget for it, go for it!

I probably eat dessert a lot more often when I’m dairy-free. You’d think that would have me packing on the pounds but I actually lost 33lbs without trying when I was dairy-free with my first baby!

Losing weight on a dairy free breastfeeding diet
This is me in size 2 pants after losing 68lbs of baby weight and extra fat I had put on over the course of 4 years, all thanks to breastfeeding + eating dairy-free.

I’m dairy free again with baby #2, Little Lo, and right now my big splurge is this brand of cookies. YUM. I buy Oreos on occasion, but I have little self-control there. Buying cookies that need to be baked first means I can’t as easily snack on them. #knowthyself

5) HAVE A BREASTFEEDING SUPPORT SYSTEM

There is nothing more discouraging than hearing family and friends ridicule your decision to eat dairy-free so you can nurse your kiddo. Or having family who just don’t understand that yes, even a little bit of butter causes a problem, and no, you cannot have my special cookies!!

Holiday get-togethers in particular can be the worst! Often I just ate beforehand or brought my own food. I knew how hard it was to make sure what I ate didn’t contain dairy, and I just couldn’t trust that a family member knew what to look out for when I barely did.

It can all get very old, very fast. So having support is key. Consider joining a breastfeeding support group on Facebook–you’re bound to find some dairy-free mamas there! I am a co-admin of this one, if you’re interested!

It also helps to remember why you’re doing this. Breast milk is the best substance you can give baby. I don’t say that to bash on formula or formula moms; it’s just that formula (at least given where science is now) simply cannot replicate what breastmilk has going for it–it’s a living substance that can actually wipe out bad bacteria!

Breast milk in a petri dish surrounded by bad bacteria
Photo Source. This is breastmilk in a petri dish. The white spot in the middle is the milk. The clean space around it is where it wiped out bad bacteria. #CantTouchThis. Also, yes, I realize these petri dishes look like boobs.

Unfortunately, there are simply not a lot of hypoallergenic infant formula options. Alimentum and Nutramigen are two “hypoallergenic” formulas often recommended to moms. However, these formulas are actually milk-based, extensively hydrolyzed formulas, meaning the dairy proteins have basically been pulverized to the point where the body does not recognize them as such. Unfortunately, many babies still react to these formulas (but thankfully not all do).

Truly dairy-free amino-acid-based formulas like Elecare or Neocate (the makers of the latter are currently being sued) have been linked to hypophosphatemia and bone disease, so you may prefer to use them only if necessary, or at least discuss research/concerns with your pediatrician. A surprisingly large percentage of babies sensitive to dairy are also sensitive to soy, which independently has it’s own set of risks as a formula option.

THIS IS the #1 reason moms quit breastfeeding

Learn exactly what to do–and what NOT to do– if you are worried about low milk supply (hint: special cookies and more liquids aren’t the answer!)

Breastfeeding already isn’t easy, and dairy sensitivity makes it even harder. But for many moms, myself included, going dairy-free is a very viable option and preferable to alternatives.

Just be advised: It can take up to 4-6 weeks for dairy to clear your and baby’s systems. So don’t be discouraged if you don’t see a 100% turnaround right away! It can take up to 8 weeks to see stool return to normal, as that’s usually the last symptom to resolve. Stick it out! For us, it was completely worth it. 

I know it seems overwhelming, and I won’t lie: It can be, at first. But the longer you do it, the more it becomes second nature. I had no problem switching back to dairy-free eating with my second baby–it had become that easy!

What if you decide eating dairy-free is not for you? That’s okay. You’re doing your best! To be safe, I would probably continue pumping while you introduce formula. That way, if formula disagrees with your little one, your supply will be protected until you can try a new formula option. I would strongly recommend speaking with a lactation consultant about how to gradually reduce your milk supply when transitioning to formula in order to prevent clogs/mastitis.

Have you gone dairy-free to breastfeed before? What worked for you? Were you glad you did it? Let me know in the comments below!

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LOVE,
GABBY