If you would have told me a year ago that I'd go dairy free for breastfeeding, I probably would've laughed in your face. Things had gone so well breastfeeding my first child that I couldn't imagine things being any different with my second. I'd also watched one of my best friends cut out dairy from her diet due to her baby's dietary needs and I hoped and prayed I'd never have to go through that. She suffered from postpartum depression and then went dairy free to continue breastfeeding. She talked about how much her weight declined, noting how hard it was on her because she had small frame to begin with. She also told me that the drastic change to her diet in order to continue breastfeeding made her feel like she couldn't enjoy motherhood the way she thought she was going to. I remember thinking how thankful I was that it wasn't me.
Fast forward a few years later, and I could tell that after bringing home our second little girl that something was definitely different. I started to see some of the tell-tale signs that she might have a dairy protein intolerance. She was having very painful gassy cramps to the point where she was crying for hours on end every night (and which helped us to understand she was colicky), her poopy diapers would be green after I ate dairy, and she also had cradle cap on her scalp, which I'd soon learn was also a sign of dairy intolerance.
To be honest, I think I was in denial about what was happening. I didn't want to believe that she had a dairy intolerance. I think it was because I was still trying to get over my traumatic birth experience and the difficulties we had bonding as a new family of four after we brought her home. It was a real struggle for me to learn to share my time between my oldest daughter and our newborn. My oldest was very jealous of her and as a result, I felt guilty. Our newborn cried a lot and wasn't satisfied unless she was with me. I, of course, was getting very little sleep and felt like I was swimming upstream every day. I just felt like I was already giving my everything, and now I had to change my diet, too?
I had dairy in my breakfast, my snacks, and I used it in a bunch of my go-to recipes for dinner. And now I had to find a way to replace it all.
But I did, however reluctantly, give up dairy just after she turned 2 months old. After having spent so much time with my friend after she quit dairy for her baby, I remembered the signs and saw them all in my newborn. Nobody had to tell me to give up dairy (and I didn't ask my doctor about going dairy free), because I just knew it to be true in my gut. A milk/soy protein intolerance (MSPI) is usually diagnosed after finding blood in baby's stool, Dr. Jennifer Trachtenberg, Assistant Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, previously told Romper. Though Trachtenberg says it's not typical to self-diagnose and does not recommend doing so, she acknowledges there's "no real blood test" for an MSPI. Plus, I reasoned that anyone can go on a diary-free diet. I believed their was no harm in doing so. So I went for it.
I felt resentful and slightly bitter that I was giving up yet another thing for motherhood.
By deciding to give up dairy for breastfeeding, I hoped to help prevent many of the crying fits Liberty was experiencing. I tried to tell myself that it wouldn't be too bad, because at least I didn't have to give up sugar (seriously, I refuse to do life without chocolate). But I soon realized that dairy had been a major part of my daily diet. I actually felt sad about all of the delicious foods I now had to give up. I mean, I had dairy in my breakfast, my snacks, and I used it in a bunch of my go-to recipes for dinner. And now I had to find a way to replace it all.
I'm not gonna lie, I think giving up dairy even took a toll on my emotions after the first week. I felt resentful and slightly bitter that I was giving up yet another thing for motherhood. It played on the emotional issues I've struggled with towards food my whole life. I am what you'd probably classify as an emotional eater. I feel bad, so I eat. I feel happy, so I eat — and I don't do well with restrictions on my diet. We also live in Italy, and they don't necessarily have all of the awesome dairy-free options they have back in the States. I mean, it's not impossible to get things without dairy here, but all of the best foods here usually have some form of dairy to go with them. If I weren't doing this for my daughter, I would've quit after the second week.
But after two weeks of going dairy free, I could tell the differences in my baby's attitude already. She cried less and seemed to be an all-around happier baby. In the second week of going dairy free, I accidentally had a small piece of cheese on a sandwich, but it didn't seem to affect her. So I got braver and had a pizza a few days later, but that turned out to be too much cheese and we paid for that all weekend long with lots of crying fits and green poopy diapers. I felt horrible. But it confirmed what I knew, even without a doctor's approval: My baby didn't react well to dairy, and constantly eating it was only hurting her.
If I am going to do this without quitting, I have to continue to live my life, and I need to allow myself moments of grace when I cheat every now and then.
It's been over six weeks now since I first gave up dairy and it's gotten easier and easier for me to live the dairy-free lifestyle. I still have moments where I feel bitter about not being able to have something, especially when we're out and about in Italy and everyone is enjoying gelato but me. But on special occasions I do allow myself to have foods with dairy in them without worrying. We were at a birthday party yesterday and there was an amazing three-tiered cake just staring me down (literally, it had a smiley face on it), so I caved and let myself have a small piece. Thankfully, it didn't have much of an effect on the baby, maybe a few extra tears here and there later on. But I know if I am going to do this without quitting, I have to continue to live my life, and I need to allow myself moments of grace when I cheat every now and then. Liberty is also getting older, which means her sensitivity to the protein in dairy may not be as bad as it was in the beginning.
Ultimately, I'm not doing this for me; I'm doing it for my daughter. I want to be able to breastfeed her as long as she wants to: one year, two years, three years — it doesn't matter. I'll quit when she wants to quit and if there is anything I can do to help in the process, like giving up dairy, I'll make that sacrifice for her because I am determined to see this through. I also know that this season of parenting won't last forever, and reminding myself of that really helps get my mind right when I'm feeling down about everything I've had to sacrifice to make breastfeeding work for us.