Successful Breastfeeding Blog
Evidence based advice, support, and education for modern families.
My baby has a confirmed allergy to dairy (cow’s milk protein) and nobody caught it for months. Even after cutting out dairy for weeks and noticing an accidental intake of it would cause my son’s symptoms to return 12-24 hours later, I was told, “Oh, sounds like he might have a dairy allergy or intolerance.” MIGHT! HA!
At first, his symptoms were concerning but repeated trips to his doctor’s office left me with instructions to just keep putting lotion on him because it was normal and he would outgrow it. I believed them, although I often felt like they didn’t care, but what else was I to do? Surely his PEDIATRICIANS should know how to treat my son. I knew these doctors. I knew they were very smart people and well-educated physicians. I was also a first-time mom so who was I to question to their judgement?
Now I’m over 6 months into my dairy free diet, my son is symptom free and happy, and I’ve learned that dairy allergies are difficult to diagnose without allergy testing.
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What were his symptoms?
Around 2 months of age, my son started having severe eczema flare ups. My husband and I have both had small flare ups in the past so I assumed the poor kid inherited some crappy genes. Constant lotions and nail trimming weren’t working well enough and he got his first infection at 2.5 months of age. He had a bacterial infection on his face and we were told to use a topical antibiotic along with an over the counter steroid cream(1% hydrocortisone).
After two rounds of that, I had to bring him into his pediatrician again because the infection kept coming back. I’ve honestly lost track of how many times I complained about his eczema and the infections he kept getting, but I got the same answer every time. “Continue with the topical antibiotic and hydrocortisone. He will grow out of this.” One time a physician tried to blame his infections on me wearing him in a baby carrier…more on that visit later.
His symptoms continued to get worse. His eczema got much worse, covering his body from head to toe in patches of red, scaly skin. His bowel movements were daily and so acidic that his bum would bleed despite changing him immediately. He was a slightly fussy child, although who could blame him? He was so itchy, very often trying to scratch his legs, his abdomen, and especially his face. It actually became a habit of his. Every time he cried, he would scratch at his face and body.
By his 4-month appointment, I was fed up. I went into his doctors insisting that something was wrong and we needed help. His physician kept saying he would grow out of it (along with a bunch of other crap advice that goes against WHO AND AAP recommendations). He must have wanted to get rid of me because at the end of the visit, he finally said if I wanted to do more, I could give up dairy.
One week later of no pizza or cheese on my tacos and my son’s skin was improving. He still had eczema patches all over his body and his stool continued to be acidic, but his patches weren’t as bright red. I could actually see progress and I knew I had to continue with my new diet. I don’t remember how many weeks it took for him to be symptom free, but he continued to get better every week. His skin slowly improved and his bowel movements not only stopped being so acidic, they went from daily to only once a week.
So. Many. Doctor Visits.
We had so many visits to his doctors’ office for the first few months of his life. Just two weeks after his 4-month appointment, I went back to complain about his never-ending infections. The physician we saw prescribed him oral antibiotics because the infection had gone too deep into his skin. I never wanted to give my baby oral antibiotics at such a young age; his gut wasn’t even fully developed yet! He also prescribed a stronger steroid to help him get SOME relief because he hadn’t had any in months.
The picture here is from this appointment. This was two weeks after giving up dairy, when he was recovering and looking better. As you can see, he still looked itchy and terrible.
We also saw a dermatologist, originally because we were concerned with scarring on his face, but the dermatologist we saw was immediately more concerned with his eczema. He prescribed an even stronger steroid to give him better relief.
My tiny, precious baby went the majority of his earth-side life with these horrible symptoms and ignored most of the time. We’re lucky to be able to afford all of the medical costs, including expensive and fancy lotions, prescribed ointments and antibiotics, and all the doctor visits. I wasn’t working at home at that point, so I was also lucky to have the time and availability to take him to appointments and wait for his prescriptions at the pharmacy. Even if I had been working, I’m sure I would have lost my job from calling off because no daycare would have wanted to take a kid with a bacterial infection on his face.
It could have been even worse.
As rough as it was for my family, I’m thankful it wasn’t much worse even though it definitely could have been.
The thought of discontinuing breastfeeding never even occurred to me. In all the bad advice I was given, discontinuing breastfeeding was not one of them, although it’s not uncommon for families to be pressured into giving formula. Some people demonize a mother’s milk for causing problems in an infant or act like giving up dairy is completely impossible. I have no doubt, my breastmilk helped to keep my son’s symptoms from being worse than they already were. I can’t imagine how much worse his infections would have been without the immunity help.
At his 4-month appointment, I was also told I should start him on solid foods. I put my foot down and immediately said, “No, thank you. We plan on waiting until at least 6 months or until he’s showing signs of being ready.” If you haven’t already done so, you should check out this amazing blog by Allison Alexander, LPN, IBCLC, where she talks about why you shouldn’t start solids this early. She explains things better than I ever could, but one point she mentions is that breastmilk has properties that coat an infant’s underdeveloped GI system, protecting them from anything bad getting in. Solid foods do not have these properties and therefore do not supply a baby with the same immunity. My 4-month-old baby with an immune system already in overdrive because of an allergy DID NOT need solid foods to create any more problems. Not to mention, repeated treatments with antibiotics on a small baby can cause more GI issues and yeast infections.
Fast forward to today.
I have a happy, healthy, eczema free baby. He is still very allergic to dairy, but his allergist is hopeful he will outgrow it by 8 years of age. We start food challenges in a few months so we will know more then. Not consuming it is usually not a problem, unless I’m walking by a delicious bakery without any vegan options, but I’ve survived quite well so far.
I share our story with you in the hopes that you see what a real CMP allergy looks like. It’s often misdiagnosed, masking other problem, and causes a lot of unnecessary stress in families. And for the record, I will never tell someone NOT to give up dairy. Cow’s milk is technically meant for baby cows, we don’t really need it. What I do recommend is seeking another opinion if you’re not seeing results from giving up dairy within a week or two. You could see an allergist to confirm any allergies or a lactation consultant to rule out overactive letdown or oversupply since they all have similar symptoms.
*You can also check out this blog about lactose overload which can cause similar symptoms.
Comment below if you've been told your baby might have a dairy or other food allergy!
My name is Kaitlyn and I'm one of the team members at Successful Breastfeeding. Before I had my son, I signed up for the prenatal class and got SO MUCH HELP as a client. Then I fell in love with the community, saw all of the moms and babies Successful Breastfeeding was able to help, and practically begged to work for them. Now I'm the keeper of the things, professional commiserater, AND working on becoming a certified lactation counselor. For real though, I love working for this company because I get to work from home, be with my son, AND help women with their breastfeeding journey. Get virtual breastfeeding support when you need it and your back to work support when it's time to go back. Your breastfeeding journey is the #1 priority here.Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.
Kelly Maher, CLC, CLE
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