I encountered my fair share of difficulties nursing my first child. I will have to create a separate blog post just for that story because while I struggled so much, I also learned a TON and this helped me feel prepared for anything with my second.
Of course, you never know it all…
Shea was super calm and mellow in the beginning. He seemed to nurse well and was gaining well. My supply seemed adequate but I drank mother’s milk tea just in case since I struggled with an inadequate supply with my first. All was great until we hit the 6 week mark. Some fussiness is expected as babies become more and more aware of their environment, but it was as though he had become a colicky baby overnight. Also, there were some unusual signs that something was just not right.
His poop had been green and watery (sorry TMI!) and very frequent, going just about after every single feed. He had pretty terrible baby acne (something that Penny never had). He spit up often and there was a thicker, mucousy quality to his spit up that was strange. He seemed gassy and uncomfortable but would not pass gas and burps were really hard to get out. Nursing was suddenly different, with lots of unlatching and fussing after just a few minutes of drinking. Lastly, in the evening, when I tried to get him down for the night, he would just stare at me wide awake as I held him wrapped tight in my woven wrap, bouncing or rocking, white noise blaring in the background. This was usually my quick fire, fail proof trick! If I stopped, he’d start wailing. This seemed to go on for hours! My husband would take a shift so I could eat dinner and shower and then I’d be back at it until he finally passed out from exhaustion.I remember thinking “what happened?” “how did we ruin this baby?”
From my web searches I suspected that a forceful letdown was to blame. Indeed, the mother’s milk tea that I had been drinking somewhat regularly was causing me to have oversupply so that was the first thing to go. Cutting that out did help with the forceful letdown issue and Shea started nursing a little better but the green watery poops continued and so did the fussiness. Then a friend suggested that I try cutting out dairy. To be fair, this was something that my mom had suggested too, even with my first, but I refused to listen. I was having a hard time believing that breast milk could change so much based on diet. Basically, I didn’t know anything about breast milk…yet.
“Could it really be the dairy?” I thought.
I was desperate at this point and willing to try anything so I cut out cheese and milk for a day and immediately noticed some improvement.
Then one day for lunch I shared a giant bowl of steamed edamame with Penny for lunch and this time I not only got green frothy poop but there was blood too. That was enough to freak me out and with a little google searching, I quickly learned that a dairy allergy also usually encompasses soy.
After being vegetarian for over 15 years, I had consumed a very large amount of dairy and soy in my life. I always considered my diet to be a healthy one, of course not knowing any better. I often substituted tofu (soy) for meat in recipes and I had a weakness for soft cheese.
After the bloody poop scare though, I cut soy as well as dairy and I started noticing improvements in poop, fussiness, sleep, baby acne, and overall mood. It was like he was a different baby!
There were some days that felt like he had relapsed and I would begin to question whether it was really the dairy and soy. With more digging and trying to understand his allergy, I learned that there are many hidden sources of dairy and soy in our food. I basically had to cut out most processed foods and be careful with vegan dairy free products (because most are soy based). As a starving nursing mom, this was so hard!
Our pediatrician understood our troubles and was on board with avoiding dairy/soy, but he didn’t seem to think that it was a serious issue. Sure, it was not a true allergy per se since exposure never caused him to have difficulty breathing or go into anaphylactic shock, but it was clear to me that it was making him miserable and he was a normal happy baby when I wasn’t eating it.
As any scientist (and hungry cheese loving mama) would do, I challenged every few weeks and he always fell back into the same pattern— irritable, digestive issues, skin rashes, and sleeplessness. It became clear that not only did he have issues with dairy and soy, but he was really sensitive to it. Even a tiny bit of cheese or a little bit of soy sauce could send him into a downward spiral of sleepless nights and GI problems.
Our pediatrician mentioned that most children outgrow these sensitivities around 9 months of age. However, at his 9 month checkup he was not much better. We were then told that he would most likely be fine by 18 months of age but that did not happen either.
As Shea got older and more mobile, I noticed other disturbing effects of the dairy and soy. It seemed to make him more aggressive and hyperactive. For aggressiveness, he would often hit me when I had him wrapped on my front or randomly walk over and hit his sister. The hyperactivity came in the form of constant running. It was as though he would become unable to walk, just in a state of constant jogging at a minimum. People would tell me, “that’s normal, he’s just being a boy,” but these behaviors would come on with dairy exposure like a light switch and as soon as it cleared his system, he’d be back to my sweet, calm boy. I had no idea that food allergies could also cause hyperactivity and effect other social behaviors but this is a common observation in kids with food sensitivities.
Another interesting discovery that I feel is worth mentioning is that despite having a severe dairy and soy intolerance from an early age, Shea tolerated a dairy based formula from Europe called Holle, just fine. My supply had dropped once I returned to work and I was feeling really stressed about being able to feed him since I knew that regular formula was not an option. The hypoallergenic formulas had an awful smell to them and my son would not take them easily. Then my boss suggested that I try Holle. I had no idea that it existed because it’s not distributed in the US, but I found it on eBay. At first I was apprehensive about purchasing baby formula on eBay, but the retailers had lots of reviews and I was desperate for a formula that worked so I gave it a shot and he did great on it!The fact that he could have formula whose first ingredient was cow milk only further confused me at first. Did he really have a dairy intolerance or was it something else? It just didn’t make sense that he was fine with 12 ounces of European dairy based formula, yet he’d get so ill from nursing after I had had a chinese food dinner or a bite of a quesadilla. I still don’t have answers for why this was so, but I have some ideas, of course.
One of the main differences between Holle and Infamil or Similac is that it uses organic dairy that is Demeter certified. I had no idea what this meant but I had heard that European organic farming practices are much more stringent than in the US. With some self education, I learned that Demeter farming practices use environmentally and ecologically friendly methods to care for soil, plants and animals. This means no use of artificial or synthetic chemicals, fertilizers, genetically modified organisms or unnecessary additives. Additionally, Demeter cows are not de-horned like American dairy cows. So it appears that this way of cultivating dairy cows makes a much more digestible and tolerable milk!
We are now at 21 months of age. He is finally showing signs that his sensitivity is easing up. I say this with caution because we have been down this road many times. He’ll seem ok with a little bit of dairy at first and then he reaches his threshold and he turns into a monster until we stop the dairy. But, it looks like this is the real deal this time. Shea has been having a little bit of cheese, or some yogurt, or some soy each day for a week now and so far he has not lost his tummy or his mind. He is still reacting to it, but it seems manageable, at least with this low level of exposure.
Interestingly, this improvement has happened to coincide with him starting a new and more potent probiotic. I started giving him a probiotic when he was a little over 1 year old but did not notice much improvement with it. The new probiotic has over 6x the amount of good bacteria in it and different strains too. It’s hard to know for sure if the probiotic is what is making this dairy trial tolerable because he is also in the age range for outgrowing this type of allergy, but I think it is.
I know that there is still quite a bit of work to do in terms of promoting proper gut health and helping Shea outgrow this food sensitivity, but at least there is a light at the end of this 21 month long tunnel.
If you are also have a milk/soy protein intolerant baby make sure that you check this blog for lots of helpful info and cooking ideas!
For more information on the formula that we used, please see: