Giving up dairy when I discovered my breastfed girls had a cow’s milk protein intolerance (CMPI) was a huge sacrifice for me. But, what could I do? As I saw it, my choices were 1) continue to let them suffer and cry in pain; 2) stop breastfeeding and look for formula that they may or may not tolerate better; or 3) give up dairy in my diet. I would do anything to get the crying to stop, and I really didn’t want to stop breastfeeding, so that was that. The dairy had to go.
At first, I almost hyperventilated thinking about the repercussions of giving up all dairy and caffeine, which is what the nurse recommended. No cheese, no cream, no butter, no chocolate, no milk, no ice cream, no yogurt, no coffee. It seemed like there was nothing (good) left for me to eat.
The other problem? I have a sweet tooth, and it seemed like every sweet treat I love had dairy in it. I needed a plan, and I needed one fast. Here’s how I survived a total of 14+ months without dairy:
Breakfast was one of the most challenging meals, mostly because I REALLY. WANTED. COFFEE. It felt like a cruel joke that not only was I not getting any sleep, but then I had to start each day sans caffeine. Instead, I settled for orange juice, a banana, toast with I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, or dry cereal (I actually like eating my cereal dry, so this wasn’t a huge deal). I’m not going to lie – breakfast in particular was a real drag for me during the non-dairy days.
A few other ideas for dairy-free breakfast items: Eggs (without milk or cheese), fruit, oatmeal (with water instead of milk), granola, or smoothies.
For lunch, I usually settled for leftovers from the night before (see “dinner” below) or a sandwich without cheese. Luckily, potato chips were still fair game, so I had a healthy serving of those most days. Salads were also a nice option, as long as the dressing didn’t have dairy in it, and chicken salad was another tasty choice.
Nate is the cook in the family, so the burden of finding dairy-free dinner recipes rested on his capable shoulders. During this time, he made a lot of delicious roasts, roasted potatoes with sea salt, soups, spaghetti, chicken dishes, rice, stir-fry meals, and burgers.
Some other delicious, diary-free dinner ideas: Goulash, cabbage rolls, salad, pork roast, shrimp pasta, turkey, ham, roasted veggies, steak, fish, and tacos with guacamole.
With ice cream and most baked goods off the table, I worried I wouldn’t be able to find anything sweet to eat. But, you’d be surprised how many cookies off the shelf DON’T have dairy (or very, very little dairy) in them! I stocked up on shortbread cookies, vanilla Oreos, and graham crackers, as well as candy (Smarties, Twizzlers, etc). Also, Nate called me from the grocery store one day with the amazing discovery that there’s such a thing as VEGAN ice cream!! That was a happy day. Caramel sea salt vegan ice cream became my new favorite thing in the world.
As luck would have it, I was dairy-free during Christmas time with both girls. Not eating Christmas cookies seemed like an impossibility to me, or at the very least, some rare form of torture. I decided I would allow myself one or two cookies…I mean, could it really hurt? Turns out, yes, it could. Within an hour or two of eating a cookie with mere traces of butter in it, Mae started spitting up and getting fussy. Dylan was even more sensitive! I took ONE bite of breaded Romano chicken at a family dinner one time, and she was sick the rest of the night. Although frustrating, it confirmed that giving up dairy WAS working and was the right thing for me to do.
Another time, I was at a family birthday party, and I mindlessly went through the food line and loaded up my plate with cheesy potatoes. As I sat down to eat and almost took a big bite, I gasped out loud. “What am I doing??” I had a lot of these “oh shit!” moments, where I would start to eat something and realize it had dairy in it. For almost a year after I incorporated dairy back into my diet, I still had post-traumatic dairy disorder. I would take a bite of something and feel a sense of panic – did this have dairy in it?!?! And then I would relax and realize I didn’t need to worry anymore.
In the whole scheme of things, eliminating dairy from your breastfeeding diet for a few months doesn’t seem like a big deal – and it’s not. But when you’re a new breastfeeding mother, and you’re already deprived of so many things that you used to enjoy (sleep, wine, time to yourself), adding yet another of life’s simple pleasures to the blacklist feels like a gut punch. It’s an emotional time, and tackling a new diet on top of everything else you’re juggling can be stressful.
If you’re considering giving up dairy – or you already have – for your CMPI baby, I feel you! Take heart that this won’t last forever, you’re doing your little one a great service, and you might even discover some tasty new recipes.
About Katie Stansberry
Katie Stansberry is a work-remote mom of two sweet girls and the creator of Breastfeeding Bliss. After struggling at the beginning of her breastfeeding journey, she wanted to create a happy place where breastfeeding moms could find practical tips, positive inspiration, and the newest and best breastfeeding products. On her "Back to Bliss" breastfeeding blog, she shares her personal stories and tips for making breastfeeding and motherhood an easier and more enjoyable experience.