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Non-Dairy Diet and Breastfeeding

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If you’re breastfeeding and are facing the prospect of starting a non-dairy diet due to your baby’s fussiness, you are not alone.

Holly & Sammy during dairy-free diet

I know firsthand some of the thoughts that come with learning your baby has a food allergy or sensitivity:

  • Maybe it would just be easier to use formula?
  • How could I not have known something I was eating was hurting my baby?
  • My baby is extra fussy today…was it something I ate?

It can feel overwhelming and even impossible at first to know what you need to cut out, and how to go about doing it.

I’m choosing to focus specifically on dairy allergy/sensitivity in infants for two reasons: First, it is the most prevalent food allergy/sensitivity in infants, and secondly, it is what I, personally, dealt with and have gathered the most information about.

If your baby has an allergy to something else, such as soy, nuts, eggs, or wheat, you have an even more difficult, but not impossible road ahead of you.

The Non-Dairy Diet and Breastfeeding

When you first make the decision to cut out dairy, it can be really difficult to not only figure out what you can’t eat, but also what you can eat instead. Breastfeeding can be a very physically draining experience at the best of times, but add to that a somewhat limited choice of foods, and it can be hard to get the required calories. And add to that the fact that a significant percentage of dairy-allergic/sensitive infants are also soy-allergic, and your options become even more limited.

I remember wondering at one point if I was going to be stuck eating carrot sticks and water for the next year. I seriously missed my pizza, ice-cream, and caramel lattes at Starbucks (yes, I’m a very healthy eater). But after doing much research, I started discovering that there were many of my favorite things I could still eat, including cookies, curries and smoothies. I was surprised how quickly I started to get used to the ‘new normal’.

By managing your new diet in a logical, step-by-step way, you’ll soon realize this may not be so bad after all. Here are some tips for how to go about starting out on your new diet.

Learn the Hidden Names for Dairy

Obviously milk, cheese, yogurt, and ice-cream are out. What many people don’t realize is how many foods, particularly processed foods, contain dairy. And unfortunately, you can’t simply look at an ingredient list and expect to see ‘MILK’ spelled out for you. It’s important to learn all the lesser known names for dairy so that you can avoid inadvertently exposing your little one to their allergen. These ‘hidden’(and not so hidden) sources of dairy include:

  • Whey or whey powdernon-dairy oreo cookies
  • Milk fat
  • Skim milk powder
  • Casein (And rennet casein)
  • Evaporated milk
  • Sweetened condensed milk
  • Buttermilk
  • Sour cream
  • Cottage cheese
  • Butter
  • Butter oil, clarified butter, and ghee
  • Cheese
  • Cream cheese
  • ‘Protein’
  • Milk derivatives
  • Modified milk ingredients
  • Milk solids
  • Lactose
  • Artificial butter flavor
  • Curds
  • Half and half
  • Hydrolysates
  • Lactalbumin
  • Lactalbumin Phosphate
  • Lactoglobulin
  • Lactulose
  • Nougat

The first couple of weeks on my dairy-free diet, I inadvertently slipped up many, many times. As the weeks passed into months however, I found that I could quickly glance at an ingredient list and tell immediately whether any forms of dairy were listed. And to make things even easier, I’ve noticed that at least here in Canada, many ingredient lists will note in bold letters the presence or absence of dairy products.

Learn Which Common Foods Contain Dairy

Sadly, there will be many foods that are simply going to be off limits as long as you’re breastfeeding. Some of the most common are:

  • Pudding
  • Most store-bought cookies, cakes and sweets
  • Most chocolate and milk chocolate chips
  • Most margarines (at least in Canada)
  • Whipped cream, including many ‘edible oil’ whipped toppings
  • Many specialty coffee drinks
  • Many crackers
  • ‘Non-dairy’ creamers (non-dairy is simply a term used when a creamer is lactose free. Unfortunately these creamers all still contain sodium caseinate, which is the milk protein that our babies are so sensitive to)
  • Most hot chocolate powders
  • Cheese and most cheese substitutes (most ‘non-dairy’ cheese still contains caseinate)
  • All ‘Cream of’ soups (like cream of mushroom, cream of chicken, etc.), as well as many other canned non-cream based soups
  • Fruit sherbets (not sorbets though…those are OK)
  • Many store-bought pasta sauces (even the tomato based ones may contain cheese or other hidden dairy)
  • Some cereals
  • Many smoothies, including those found at Orange Julius
  • Most store bought granola and snack bars
  • Pizza (You can have it without cheese though…although be sure to ask if the dough contains dairy)
  • Most Italian and Mexican food (although enchiladas are often dairy free if you leave off the cheese)
  • Most potato and nacho chips (although pretzels, plain potato chips, and even the odd flavoured potato chip, depending on the brand, are usually OK)

Learn Which Foods are Dairy-Free

I highly recommend going to a whole food or organic grocery store like Whole Foods, Choices, or Capers, as they are much more likely to carry non-dairy products than larger grocery chains. In addition, some specialty stores will actually have pamphlets that list many of the non-dairy items that they carry.

  • Most whole grain breads and bagels
  • Some sandwich meats (be sure to check the label…surprisingly many deli meats contain dairy!)
  • Soy coffee creamer (Silk is a popular brand. I can’t stand the taste of soy milk, but I find Silk doesn’t have any soy taste or aftertaste. Tastes just like cream if you ask me)
  • Soy and rice milk frozen desserts, like Tofutti, Soy Delicious and Rice Dream ‘ice-creams’
  • Fruit sorbets and frozen fruit bars and Popsicles
  • Soy-based margarines (Many people really like Earth Balance buttery spread; I like it so much I’m going to keep buying it when I’m back on dairy). Apparently some margarines (especially low-fat ones) are also dairy-free, although I’ve yet to find any myself
  • Popcorn (without butter!)
  • I called Starbucks to inquire about their non-dairy options and was told black coffee, tea, or fruit tea based frappucinos. They also offer a decent vegan brownie which is, obviously, dairy-free. Of course, any of their coffee based drinks are available with soy milk instead of cow’s milk.
  • Plain taco chips with hummus, guacamole or salsa
  • Most authentic asian and middle-eastern foods (Chinese, Thai, and many Indian dishes…again be sure to ask, because while many curries, for instance are dairy free, the odd restaurant will throw cream into theirs)
  • A lot of fast food. Sadly, it’s often safer to go out for fast food than eat-in dining when you’re off dairy. Dairy is too costly so a lot of fast food is dairy free. Most fast food chains list the allergens in their menus items on their websites.
  • Whole foods such as meat, fruits and veggies, eggs, rice, beans, etc.
  • Most mayonnaise does not contain dairy
  • Some store bought cookies (Oreos or store-brand oreos are usually OK. Some contain whey so be sure to check. I once ate a whole bag of oreos in 3 days before I realized they contained whey)
  • Non-dairy milks, such as soy, almond and rice milk. Not always so tasty to drink straight, but may be a good alternative in cereal or baking
  • Nutriwhip. I’ve also heard that ‘Rich’s’ frozen whipped topping is dairy free and excellent tasting, and some people also really like Soyatoo ‘Soy Whip’, although others claim it has that ‘soy’ aftertaste
  • Some cake and cookie mixes (I’ve found many Duncan Hines cake mixes and Betty Crocker icings don’t contain dairy. Also the Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk cookie mix from Duncan Hines (I think) is dairy free, and some (many?) brownie mixes as well)
  • Some chocolate and chocolate chips. Most plain dark chocolate bars, and some dark chocolate chips do not contain dairy. Some of my favorites are the Lindt Excellence 70% Cacao bars, Green and Black’s Organic Mint chocolate bar, and Endangered Species Dark Chocolate with Espresso Beans. There are also Rice-milk based chocolate bars that could easily pass for dairy-milk chocolate.
  • Any food labeled as ‘vegan’ (meaning that none of the ingredients are derived from animals), ‘pareve’ or ‘parve’ (meaning doesn’t contain meat or dairy). A great resource for finding vegan (so non-dairy) convenience foods can be found on the Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) website
  • If you have a favorite type of baked good, try your luck at the grocery store. I was surprised to find some delicious frosted brownies at our local Safeway that don’t contain dairy.
  • Smoothies (without yogurt or ice-cream). My favorite is a tropical smoothie with pineapple, mango and frozen banana, blended with fruit juice and ice. Shops like Blenz Coffee and many smoothie bars will often make a non-dairy smoothie at your request.

Find Dairy-Free Recipes

I found it difficult to know what to make for meals and for snacks while eating dairy-free. I tried using some of my usual recipes and altering them to remove or replace the dairy, but the results were often disappointing. I had no experience using soy milk, almond milk, non-dairy margarine, etc. in cooking, and often straight substitutions just didn’t work.

If you’re going to be on this non-dairy journey for a while, I’d recommend getting some good, tested dairy-free recipes in your arsenal. You don’t need to feel deprived on a non-dairy diet!

One of the best sources I’ve found for dairy-free recipes are the Go Dairy Free ebooks and website. The founder of the site, Alisa Fleming, is an authority on dairy-free eating, and her ebook selection is one of the most comprehensive I’ve seen.

Check out Alisa’s ebooks here:

Go Dairy Free Guide and Cookbook

No Dairy Product List

No Dairy Product List for Multiple Food Concerns

No Dairy & No Soy Product List

No Dairy & No Gluten Product List

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