Dairy-Free Days: Nursing a Baby with a Milk and Soy Protein Intolerance

Holy cow products, I’m eating ice cream!! A few days ago, I had lunch with a good friend. Afterwards, he offered to introduce me to the best ice cream I have ever had. While I’m generally suspicious of superlatives, it turns out Godiva does serve up a pretty damn good cone.  And while its rich chocolate depths were not lost on me, I was mostly just excited to be eating any ice cream at all.  Just over a month before, a trip out to lunch would have amounted to far more prep and far less enjoyment. And ice cream most certainly would not have been on the agenda!

I’m a nursing mom, and when my daughter was about a month old we found out she had a milk and soy protein intolerance.  This meant that my 34-day-old daughter was about to put me on a pretty strict diet.


How We Knew

As a newborn, Lena refused to lay flat and arched her back in pain whenever she tried to sleep.  I spent a few nights on my living room reclining sofa, holding her upright as she slept and I dozed in and out while rocking and re-positioning her.  My friend’s son had true colic and he ended up being diagnosed with a dairy and soy intolerance.  When I described Lena’s symptoms to my friend, she responded, “Have the doctor check her poo,” in the matter-of-fact way only a mom can do when talking about human feces.

I brought a dirty diaper to my pediatrician’s office and they did an occult blood test (again, who else but a parent actually carries around a tiny bag of human waste?).  In just minutes, a nurse came into the waiting room and apologetically told me the test was positive: my poor baby’s delicate new gut was so irritated that it resulted in tiny little specks of blood coming through her bowels. While the nurse grimaced sympathetically at me, I was actually relieved.  Knowing the problem meant knowing the solutions.  I left the pediatrician’s office and headed straight to the store, to stock up on almond milk and dairy-free snacks.

Why Continuing to Nurse Was Right For Me

I already had a three-year-old boy when Lena was born, and he had given me one heck of an introduction to nursing {we had some major latching issues}.  Despite a rocky start, I grew to love it.  That said, when a few of my friends were debating IMAG0341the importance of nursing over formula-feeding and asked me, “Don’t you think breast-milk is the most important thing you can give your baby?” I replied: “No, a happy mom is.”  There is a lot of pressure on moms to breastfeed; thirty years ago, there was some significant pressure not to.  My mom didn’t, and {I think} I turned out just fine. Ultimately, we have to make the decisions that are best for each of us.  

Here’s why changing my diet was right for me:

  • I have always had dairy issues.  I went to a gastroenterologist in college and he told me 1 in 9 people are actually sensitive to dairy.  While a quick consult with Dr. Google couldn’t replicate that stat, the issue was a simple one: When I cut down on dairy, I felt better.  Even though I slowly added it back in, dairy and I have always done better with a casual relationship.
  • I love food.  When I told my cousin what was happening, she replied, “Oh no! That’s so sad because you’re a total foodie!”  Actually, it was quite the opposite.  I eat just about everything (beets and brussel sprouts are about the only things I’ll adamantly refuse).  So, cutting out dairy and soy didn’t mean I had to eat less — just differently. In fact, a part of me was excited to force us out of some of our comfortable food zones and discover some recipes and dishes I had never had before!
  • I wanted motivation to eat healthy. When my son was born, I’d take breaks from being a human pacifier by going through a drive-thru so I could eat lunch in peace while cruising the neighborhood.  Nursing also makes me famished, so I started eating whatever was available or convenient. When my son turned one, my husband and I committed to eating healthier and cooking more often. I knew a new baby would tempt me into old habits, and a part of me welcomed a good excuse not to fall into them!
  • Unlike my son, my daughter took right to nursing.  Even so, she lost weight too fast in the hospital and the well-intentioned nurses tried to alarm me.  A lactation consultant helped me establish a pumping routine that upped my milk supply and within a few weeks, my brother started laughing and calling his niece dibbah (Chaldean for fat bear).  I joked that I wanted to go back to the hospital and wave her chunky little thighs around, but I was certainly very proud that my body had managed to take her to the top of the charts.  I wasn’t ready to give that up.IMAG0461IMAG0464

Off to a Slow Start

The beginning was really rough.  Dairy takes up to two-three weeks to leave your own body, then up to another two to leave the baby.  Lena didn’t start to noticeably improve until about the three week.  Until then, she was pretty ticked off most the time (one of my friends lovingly noted that she had “Resting B Face”).  People who see her now would never know — a daycare teacher who’s not even in her room has nicknamed her “Smiles.”  But it took a while to get us there. As hard as I tried, I invariably seemed to mess up and let some soy or dairy get past my careful guard. When I was younger, the cost of some indulgence was my own; it was much harder to know she was suffering for my mistakes.  I called one of my best friends, who is a Pediatric ER Doctor, and asked her if I 2014-11-05was doing more harm than good.  I worried that I was selfishly trying to hold on to breastfeeding, even though it was hurting my daughter.  She assured me that I wasn’t and that this would pass.

In the mean time, we found that Gripe Water really helped soothe her tummy (we bought ours at Whole Foods).

Sneaky Soy

Dairy can be tricky; for some reason, lactates and lactylates are not dairy but casein and caseinates are.  For the most part, though, dairy derivatives are easy to spot (cream, yogurt, milk, etc).  Soy is the sly one.  Soybean oil is everywhere now.  When I’d call restaurants to ask what kind of oil they used, they most often answered, “Vegetable.”  When I asked what kind of vegetable, they would have to go check — more often than not, it included soybean or would be a commercial jug simply labeled “blend.” And the sneakiest bugger is “soy lecithin,” whi11877663_698239663639501_246755021_och does not always have to be identified as an allergen under FDA regulations.  

Here are the most surprising places I found soy:

  • Oil (Vegetable Oil, Oil Blend, and even Olive Oil Blend may have soybean oil)
  • Cooking Spray
  • Tea bags
  • Most packaged breads
  • Natural Flavors (this will often but not always have “soy” in parentheses right after)

Once I’d had the dairy and soy eliminated from my diet, it was a lot easier to identify foods that had hidden ingredients.  Usually within a few hours, Lena would have some stomach cramps or I would find tiny specks of blood in her diaper. Fortunately, the setbacks were short-lived and I eventually got really good at knowing what to avoid.

My Favorite Food Finds

As I had hoped, my new diet opened me up to some foods and recipes that I would have never tried.  Here are some of my favorites:


  • My new best friend: the coconut.  We had already jumped on the coconut oil bandwagon, but I was surprised at how many other ways coconut could fill the holes in my dairy- and soy- free life.  Coconut Aminos remarkably taste pretty much like soy sauce and could be easily subbed into any recipe (I found mine cheaper at Whole Foods). Canned Coconut Milk can be used pretty much wherever milk or cream are called for.  I used it to make Dairy-Free Ranch, whipped cream, and this delicious chocolate mousse.
  • Enjoy Life Chocolate Chips.  These are pretty expensive to buy at the store, but in bulk on Amazon, they’re pretty on par with other leading brands.  They are totally allergen free but a good reminder that I didn’t have to be chocolate free! In fact, they led to one of my absolute favorite indulgences: homemade magic shell!! We already had a Yonanas “Ice cream” maker from years ago when we first started eating healthier, and if you drizzle this chocolate sauce over it (or anything cold, so coconut or almond milk ice cream are great too!), it hardens right up.  You just need one part coconut oil to two parts chocolate: Melt the coconut oil over medium-low to medium heat, then add in the chocolate and stir until melted.  Let it cool so that it’s not so hot that it will melt your “ice cream” but use it before it sets again.  SO GOOD.  Even my 10-year-old niece of discerning dessert tastes loved it!
  • I had to toss my cooking sprays, so we bought a Misto and we love it!  We use it to spray olive oil on our toast, baked chicken dishes, and even popcorn! IMAG7488
  • I discovered how amazing foods like eggs and avocado are, and they really helped take the place of the consistency that cheese, sour cream, or other milk products have.  I used to cringe when my husband would order a fried egg on his burger, but since most packaged buns had some sort of soy in them, I caved in and tried the egg-on-a-burger.  It was delicious.  A friend of mine also turned me on to putting avocado on pizza instead of cheese — sounds strange but it was pretty good!



IMAG2635(Top) My  “I Don’t Miss the Bun or Cheese” Burger! (Bottom) My home-made pizza with a paleo ranch base

Finding Support

I’ve known a surprising number of people whose babies have had dairy sensitivities. I was fortunate to have one of my best friends guide me through the beginning.  A friend at work who had a baby girl a month before me was also nursing through dairy intolerance.  We were able to co-investigate what was “safe” in our cafeteria and swap recipes and resources.  Even still, I found it helpful to jump online.  I joined two Facebook groups that have been a tremendous support:

  • Nursing The Littles is a phenomenal group of breastfeeding mamas.  Per their description: “While this is a PRO breastfeeding group, that doesn’t mean we are AGAINST formula feeding. We know that mothers make the best decision for their families depending on their circumstances.” The administrators do a wonderful job of keeping this an open, constructive, and non-judgmental forum. While it is not specific to dairy issues, I have seen many posts by moms on a similar journey as mine. I had already made the decision that I wanted to continue nursing, but this group has been a great source of support and motivation.
  • Milk Allergy Mommies is a group I was led to by a member of Nursing The Littles. I think it is important to note, however, that what my daughter has is not an actual allergy. I feel obliged to make that distinction because these women are the real warriors. If my daughter or I eat some dairy by mistake, it is, at worst, a bad night. I know nothing of the reality that includes anaphylaxis and epi pens. That being said, they are another amazingly supportive group who share valuable recipes and ideas.
  • The Whole30 is a program in which you eliminate processed foods and other food groups that may be having a negative effect on you for 30 days. A friend of mine from my older child’s baby group wanted to try it. The program focuses on whole foods, but also restricts any sort of dairy, soy, sugar (including honey and maple syrup), grains or oats. I figured since I was halfway there I may as well try it! My husband even agreed to juIMAG1767mp in. My friend created a Facebook page and we all posted what ate each day, so as to inspire and hold ourselves accountable. I had already been dairy and soy free for about 10 weeks, but this would have been a great way for me to start, especially because of the added support. I’m not big of “fad diets” (I always quote a former classmate who said she doesn’t trust any diet that doesn’t let you have an apple whenever you want one), but on the whole, the foundations here made sense. And even though we had merged to a healthier diet, I was still a sugar junkie. This isn’t meant to permanently replace everything you eat; it is, as they call it, a “reset.” If you can’t get a group of friends to try it out, search for groups on Facebook — there are plenty out there! There are also lots of food bloggers who have done it and posted meal plans you can follow or mix and match. If nothing else, you’ll come away with some great new recipes!  The Chicken and Zucchini Poppers and Chocolate Chili were some of my favorites! 

Eating Out

This was the most tricky part, especially at the beginning. I found it really helpful to call ahead when possible. Most restaurants have their menus online, so I would download them and then call during non-meal rush times. I’d ask to speak with a manager, explain that I could not eat anything with dairy or soy in it, and ask if I could go through a few items on their menu in order to find something safe. Unfortunately, does ‘X’ have dairy or soy is only the first question. My next questions were:

  • “So there are no milk products at all?  Including cream or butter?” (I was shocked by how many people think eggs are dairy but don’t realize or don’t think about butter)
  • “What kind of oil do you use?” And if they say vegetable, I asked what kind. If they said olive, I had to clarify that it was pure olive oil and not a blend.
  • If something was served on a bun or with some kind of dressing, I asked if the ingredients in those contained any kind of dairy, soy, or soy lecithin.

I would always let the waiter know as well, but as a former server I knew it was better to call ahead. If you’ve ever had to interrogate a line cook during a dinner rush, you know you might get death stares instead of answers! I was amazed by how many places couldn’t — or wouldn’t — answer those questions.  I’d call some places two different times and get two different answers. Others admitted to just not knowing. A few times I was even told I probably just shouldn’t eat there.  I had some really great experiences, as well.  The Bird and the Bread in Birmingham makes their bread in-house, so not only was it one of the only buns I was able to eat, but the server was extra attentive to being sure that everything was “safe.” La Marsa in Bloomfield Hills was also spectacular. I actually think the manager was more concerned than I was — when I tried to order the rice (for my son), he practically yelled in panic: “That has butter!!” While calling ahead can be a pain, it gives you a good sense of which restaurants really know what is in their food and truly care about their customers. And for those nights when I hadn’t planned ahead and lamented our inability to just pick up a pizza, we discovered Chipotle was nearly entirely safe!

Keeping it in Perspective

  • You can always switch to formula.  If you are trying to decide whether or not to continue nursing, give yourself a trial period. Your happiness matters too, and if it isn’t working out, ask your pediatrician about formula and check with your insurance coverage to see if they will help with the cost.
  • There is ice cream at the end of your tunnel. Your child will only be a baby for a blink of an eye; that pizza isn’t going anywhere.
  • If you’ve ever wanted to change your diet, this could be the perfect motivation! I found out in college that I was sensitive to dairy, and I know how much I can handle. But this led me to an opportunity to really examine my diet and find other sources of problems. My husband and I both noted how differently we felt when we “quit” sugar — this could be as much of a benefit to you as it is to your baby!
  • A sensitivity is not an allergy. When my friends and family were indulging in buttery mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving, it would have been easy to throw myself a pity party. But I had the chance to peer into a small window of what moms of children with true allergies have to go through: I never had to fear for my child’s safety when dropping her off at daycare because we live in a culture of edible incentives; I could laugh with mild amusement over why people don’t realize butter comes from milk without fearing that their ignorance might cause me a trip to the ER; I never cried out of happiness because another mom coupled the invite to her child’s birthday party with the promise that they would be dairy-free just so my kid could have the same experience that all of us take for granted. Like most moms, I placed my hand on my child’s back to make sure she was breathing well, but I never had to watch her actually struggle for air. I’m an adult; I told myself I could do a fraction of what these moms have trained their children to do with grace and acceptance.
  • This ain’t your mama’s food world. Even ten years ago, a journey like this would have been so much harder. While there’s still a ways to go, there’s so much more awareness and sensitivity to food allergies and issues.
  • This too shall pass. And I don’t just mean that in the “weather the storm” sense, but more what I learned from my four-year-old who seemed to go from baby to big boy overnight. Like I said, things were tough in the beginning but they were over all too soon. And to be honest? I think about those nights on the sofa recliner with my baby girl resting comfortably inclined in my arms, and I would absolutely do it all over again.

Helpful Resources

  • If you think your baby might have a sensitivity, KellyMom is a fantastic resource for nursing moms — with or without dairy issues!  But if you discover you fall into the “with” category, they also have this convenient “Cheat Sheet” that you can cut out and keep in your purse or wallet to help you identify dairy ingredients.
  • GoDairyFree is an excellent resource. For example, they have a great Shopping Guide and a wonderful listing of Eating Out tips and recommended restaurants.
  • Get to know Paleo. I have nothing against grains and am certainly not recommending ruling out another food group, but I found this a wonderful search tool. A Paleo diet restricts soy and dairy, so it’s much closer than searching “vegan” or “dairy free.” Some of the blogs I started following are Against All Grain and The Paleo Mom.
  • A lot of the healthy food bloggers I followed before were already dairy-free or had some dairy-free tabs. Some of my favorites: Skinnytaste, Chocolate Covered Katie, and My Whole Food Life.


We are approaching one year of breastfeeding, almost eight months of which were dairy free. I made it through Halloween without the candy bars, Thanksgiving without the butter-basted turkey, Christmas sans cookies, a milk-chocolate free Valentine’s Day, and many a pizza party with my own personally-packed lunch. It was hard, but watching my little girl pudge up like a balloon being inflated made it all worth it!


Did You Nurse a Baby with a Food Sensitivity?? This is what worked for me, but every Mama’s Journey is Different; Please Share The Tips, Tricks, and Resources that helped you on yours!!


  1. I see this is an old post, but I am curious to know how your daughter is doing now.l, 3 years later. I am currently going through this with my 7 month old son. Thank you for this post. It blessed me.

  2. Hi Stephany! Thank you for the comment — it made my day 🙂 Lena is about to turn four and we have had no more diet issues, thankfully. I reintroduced dairy/soy to her around nine months and fortunately she has handled it fine. I do know for myself that I felt a lot better without the dairy (and maybe the soy?) in my diet. The experience did teach me how to limit dairy and ways to vary it, but I haven’t had the discipline to eliminate it without that same motivation as I had before. Good luck with your son! If you haven’t already joined Milk Allergy Mommies on Facebook, I do highly recommend it — especially to get more up-to-date resources!

  3. I’ve been dairy, soy, and egg free for 3 months now because of my LO’s sensitivities. I made the decision to switch to formula 2 days ago because I’ve been unhappy and I have to go back to work next month. I’ve been so emotional over this decision. I don’t know if it’s the right one! I wish I could continue BF. I just want what is best for her. She’s pretty unhappy with formula even though I am mixing her bottles. Any tips?

  4. First of all, good for you — I think a lot of moms feel undue pressure to continue breastfeeding even when it is just not working out. Three months — especially with those restrictions — is incredible. Besides, I was strictly formula fed and I turned out just fine (or at least, I think so).

    Of course I think the best person to consult with is your pediatrician. I know that Nutrimigen is the formula I had used when needed, but I’m not sure if an egg sensitivity would have changed that. Or if there is one now that might taste better. Lena didn’t like the taste at first but got used to it. When my oldest was a baby, he went on a bottle strike when I went back to work, and I think the best advice I received was “If he’s hungry enough, he’ll eat.” It was a tough transition, but it all worked out in the end. Besides, in not too long, solid food comes into the mix and, even though that might come with its own challenges, at least there is more variety in food source.

    We put so much pressure on ourselves during every stage of their lives. I’m glad the circumstances in my life allowed me to continue to bf (I was part-time then, which helped A LOT), but at the end of the day, the four-year-old she is now would not be any different if we had switched entirely to formula. Your baby has a mom that loves her enough to care this much about her <3

  5. Hi Nicole, I loved reading your post. I’ve been like crazy researching online and have found very little. My 3 month old is exclusively breastfed but 3 weeks ago she got this horrible rash all over her body and face and is very itchy. Doctor’s say it’s eczema and eczema really sucks. My baby can’t even sleep because of this. I really believe that her rashes are due to allergies from dairy, egg and soy protein. I’ve tried to restrict those from my diet but I have failed like 3 times and had mayo in a burger, and I think that I had soy in my chips from a restaurant. My baby is having a new flare up. Today she had the blood test to check for allergies and I hope to get answers. I am thinking about giving her formula but doesn’t Nutramigen have soy in it? I got a sample today but I read something about soy on the ingredients.

  6. Thank you so much for this post! My son seems to have egg, dairy and soy allergy. Every time I think he’s getting better I accidentally ingest something that upsets him. It’s so frustrating but I’m happy to know that someone else has gone through this too.


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