The struggle is real: When your baby has a major dairy intolerance

Difficult baby or Dairy intolerance? Symptoms of food issues

Food intolerances. The culprit behind my poor, cranky, unsettled baby.

At a month old, he started spewing up like mad. At two months, eczema and cradle cap kicked in. At three months, he started waking up screaming very frequently, struggled to pass gas, had what seemed to be digestive pains, and horrible reflux spells after almost every feed.  

The last few months have been such a rollercoaster – I’ve learned that as long as your baby is gaining weight nobody takes your issues seriously.

This makes it so hard to get to the bottom of what ails our little helpless beans. It’s incredible what babies and their parents are expected to put up with – everything chalked up to a stage they’ll grow out of, or that horrible catchall … colic.

How we got started down this path

When the osteopath suggested I cut dairy after noting Spud’s eczema I kinda laughed it off. I hardly consume much dairy anyway and expected to see no difference.

And at first there wasn’t, especially since I only half heartedly committed and as it turns out… dairy is a bitch. Going dairy free is a long slow painful game.

Thank the stars for Facebook groups – a total lifeline for anyone dealing with cows milk protein intolerance or allergy. 🐮

In hindsight, I’m horrified at all the times Spud was screaming at night with gas pains. Knowing now that my milk was causing that. Feeding him is meant to be act of comfort and sustenance, but it was also hurting him.

Cutting back, I noticed his reflux was better. No longer did we go through multiple bibs, outfits and burp cloths a day.

Maybe there was something to it after all?

So I decided to cut hidden dairy as well and do it properly. (Milk is in everything. Chips, hash browns, sauces, you name it… it is tough.)

Between that and spacing out feeds 3 hourly (too frequent feeding wasn’t helping), his gas pains reduced dramatically.

What symptoms of dairy intolerance did we have?

❎He used to arch his back and fuss after most feeds, as above.

❎Had horrendous cradle cap that lasted for months.

❎Eczema and rashes on face and body.

❎Spit up constantly (the spews he did when we tried cow’s milk formula were beyond).

❎Gas pains woke him suddenly and frequently all night, as often as every 30 to 60 mins at their worst. Struggling to pass farts, his insides rumbling and gurgling like a drain and vibrating like giant bubbles were popping in his abdomen.

❎He got constipated, screamed and cried to poo (at one point popping a blood vessel in his eye), his farts and poos reeked and were funky colours and sometime mucusy.

❎Had a constantly congested nose and daily earwax build up.

❎Was so unsettled and would randomly shriek and squeal, go stiff as a board in the torso and thrash his head and limbs around like a wild animal. Couldn’t be left to play or chill for more than a minute or two before losing the plot.

I became a diaper detective, obsessing over the contents of his nappies – colour, consistency, scent, frequency. Read food labels with an eagle eye. Posted poo pictures to that Facebook group for feedback and opinions. 💩

Cruelly, it turns out he has issues with nuts as well, so lots of the things I replaced dairy with had to go too. And eventually I identified seafood as yet another trigger. Maybe beef too, although that might have been paranoia. Who knows … by the end of it I felt like all food was the enemy.

I amazed myself with how much self control I actually had over what I eat. A far cry from my usual MO! But when the alternative is being up at 2, 3, 4, 5, 6am with an inconsolable screaming baby, it’s an easy choice. That tiny bit of coconut cream in the curry, or trace of nuts in that dip? That only leads to regret in the dark cold hours of the early morning.

I can’t believe how sensitive his digestive system is to my own diet. You will read all about how unlikely that is. And yet if you only look, social media is full of parents struggling with the same thing. I bet the real rates of intolerance and allergy are way way higher than stated. And I hate to think how many are suffering because they just don’t know, and many medical pros don’t know enough either.

It is tricky, as all of these symptoms are not unusual in of themselves. But I know for us – and for many many others – it adds up to something more.

Figuring out food intolerances out on our own

I’m so glad for Plunket, Space group, and my friends who became parents before I did … thanks to them I felt listened to even when I felt particularly hopeless.

Our GP was kindly but oh so patronising …

Burp him more! (In response to the waking at night screaming with gas issues. Spoiler, this did nothing to help with the farts and belly pains.)

You’re creating a problem for yourself holding and rocking him! (Because he’s constipated and miserable and hasn’t pooped for days.)

… and declined to refer us for allergy testing.

Then, one of my best friends who’s a doctor dismissed me saying all babies have gassy phases (and her own kid has severe allergies).

I’m grateful I added Spud onto my health insurance and for the first time ever have actually used that cover to see a specialist. They were the only ones to not entirely patronise me, and ultimately to prescribe allergenic formula that changed our lives.

Allergy testing didn’t yield anything, which was a bummer (it would have been validation) but odds are good for him to grow out of a “mere” intolerance.

As a first time mum you often won’t be taken seriously. Now I’m not someone who makes a fuss ever. But I’m learning I need to be an advocate for my son.

Nobody knows your baby better than you do. Trust those parental instincts and go with your gut. When you feel something is wrong, keep pushing.

Next up for us, we’ll tackle introducing dairy closer to the 1 year mark using the dairy ladder. I’m both terrified and hopeful!

3 thoughts on “The struggle is real: When your baby has a major dairy intolerance

  • Reply Life we learn June 29, 2019 at 16:25

    Hugs! hugs! Hugs!
    I cannot even imagine what you have been through so far and poor little Riley 🙁 You are doing a great job mama, hang in there x

  • Reply Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life July 12, 2019 at 04:31

    Oh my gosh, those doctors are infuriating! Thank goodness for the support network you’ve had, I’m so sorry it’s been so rough.

  • Reply Nicoleandmaggie July 14, 2019 at 00:26

    I remember when we were figuring this out with DC1 (turned out to be bell peppers). I went on an elimination diet where I started eating just chicken for a few days.

    With DC2 we were lucky (?) because she made me throw up any foods that would have bothered her (wheat) when I was pregnant so I knew what to avoid. She still got major eczema and the doctor told us allergy tests were useless until age 3, I think. Then it turns out there’s no test for her current suspected allergen, red food dye.

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