Does Your Baby Have a Dairy Sensitivity or Allergy?
Is My Baby Sensitive or Allergic to Dairy?
Babies cry. That's what they do. But even experienced moms can have trouble determining if that cry means more than than the normal wet, hungry or sleepy cry. How do you know if your baby is in pain, and how do you know if what they're eating is to blame?
Is Milk to Blame?
All kinds of milk have protein. Certain milk proteins are more difficult to digest, by many people. Pair an immature digestive system, say one you would find in a 3 week old, with a high amount of milk protein, and you may find yourself with a very cranky (and maybe sick) baby.
Signs to Look For
Most babies will cry from time to time, especially in the first 12 weeks of life. And a lot of babies have gas, which can be painful for them to pass and may be the cause of crying. And many healthy newborns are awake most of the night, and that can be totally normal.
It's hard to know when you should seek outside help. The upside of having a newborn is the frequent doctor's visits that accompany the first few weeks of their life. Talk to your pediatrician if you are concerned that your baby is crying too much or is in pain.
Here are some signs that you should consider a milk protein sensitivity or allergy:
- Inconsolable crying for several hours a day
- Blood or mucus in stools
- Bright green stools (in breast fed babies, more on this later)
- Painful, frequent gas
- Frequent spitting up or vomiting
These are just a few signs - if you see any of these in your newborn, please contact your pediatrician to discuss these symptoms in your baby.
What's a Mom To Do?
Your baby needs milk to survive. If your baby is breastfed or formula fed or both, you have many options available to you depending on the severity of the sensitivity.
As a breastfeeding mother, you can eliminate dairy from your diet. Your breastmilk has a very low milk protein naturally, but the milk protein that you ingest from cow or goat's milk is passed through your breastmilk, therefore increasing the amount of milk protein that your baby ingests. If you notice a difference in as little as one day, you're on the right track. In all, it may take up to 2 weeks for your body to completely rid itself of cow's milk protein, depending on how much dairy you consumed before eliminating it. But you may notice your baby crying less and sleeping better in as little as a day if a milk protein sensitivity is at play. Continue limiting and eliminating dairy until your baby is comfortable.
As a formula feeding mother, you can switch from cow's milk based formula to soy formula. There may be some risks associated with soy formula, so it's best to discuss a formula change with your pediatrician before you do it. Also, some babies with a milk protein sensitivity have shown to have the same sensitivity with soy. You also have the option of changing to a hydrolysate formula. The important thing to realize is that you cannot just switch to another brand of cow's milk formula, because it is the protein in the cow's milk that is causing the discomfort in your baby.
The important thing is to discuss any feeding changes with your pediatrician.
How Long and How Bad?
Your baby's sensitivity to milk protein can be considered an allergy if the symptoms are extremely bad - for example blood in their stool. But it's best to consult with your baby's pediatrician for their advice.
The duration of the sensitivity or allergy varies from baby to baby. Some are OK with cow's milk protein in as soon as 4 months and others may last a year or two or even longer.
My firstborn was a cranky baby, and I recall my sister's advice - cut out dairy in your diet. As a new mom, I couldn't imagine that my breastmilk was to blame. After all, isn't breastmilk the perfect food for your baby? I tried my best to console his crying, always carrying him and walking with him and bouncing him and rocking him. Well, he hit 12 weeks, and became a different baby. I attributed it to colic.
18 months later my daughter arrived. Cranky and miserable - both of us. This time, having to balance a toddler and a newborn, I found myself thinking back to my sister's advice. I tried a little experiment of cutting just milk and cheese out of my diet. Overnight, my daughter's crying jags stopped. I started cutting even more dairy out - and we would get compliments on what a good baby she was.
Now by the time my third baby came around - a mere 16 months later - I cut out dairy 2 weeks before he was born. While my mom and husband thought I was crazy, I was willing to avoid having a super cranky baby along with two toddlers under 3. And it was such a small sacrifice. I won't say it was easy all the time, but honestly, when you know that cup of ice cream will rear it's ugly head in a screaming - and I mean screaming, not crying - baby that doesn't sleep? Well, the choice for me was clear.
With my babies, they all got over their sensitivity around the age of 3.5 to 4 months. I slowly introduced dairy back into my diet until I was sure they were OK with it. I could also tell by what was in their diaper - bright green stools meant back off the dairy for me. I should note that bright green stools can also represent a foremilk and hindmilk imbalance - more information on this can be found in the links below.
I always think back to my first born - I know in my heart that he was sensitive to dairy as well, I just wish I wouldn't have been so arrogant at the time. But life is about learning and sharing. So I am sharing my story with others in the hopes that I can help a new mom find the help she may need.