Warning: This post will be long and will not contain the usual level of witty banter. I will talk unabashedly about the bodily fluids of infants. This post does not replace medical advice by a health professional, and you should always consult your health care provider regarding your child’s health.
So I’m writing this because I feel there is a need for more information, more stories, and more “don’t worry, your baby will be ok” consolations regarding the topic of babies with milk protein and/or soy intolerances. This is our story, and the information that I’ve gathered that I can offer to a new mom, who may or may not be praying frantically at two in the morning that the blood in her baby’s diaper does not mean something really horrific. I was that mom, and I’m here to tell you, it’s going to be ok.
My first son was always a fussy one, pretty much from birth. He never seemed comfortable, and my husband and I being the new parents we were, thought it must be gas. My breast milk came in, but it never seemed to sit right with him, and so I concluded like a new mom does, that I didn’t have enough (I wish I could go back in time and slap myself, and perhaps my pediatrician who agreed, but that’s neither here nor there). So we supplemented with the run of the mill formula option the hospital gave us (Similac Ready to Feed). When that seemed to irritate him, we tried every formula Target had to offer- sensitive ones, gentle ones, the ones that promised to rock your baby to sleep for you…NONE of them helped.
We continued on this path of breastfeeding and supplementing after each feed, dealing with a fussy baby the entire time, until the awful night when it became clear that our issue was not colic or “fussy baby syndrome.” During a feeding at two in the morning, I heard him have a bowel movement which was odd, as he was never a middle of the night pooper. I also knew from the sound of it, that this was not the average poop. Every parent knows the sound of an abnormal poop. It’s a badge of honor, isn’t it? Anyway, when I changed him I instantly saw red streaks through slimy green poop. To my horror, I recognized the red streaks as blood. His bottom was red as well. This turned into the night where I almost broke Google, because I instantly began searching things like “Blood in baby’s diaper” and “blood in baby poop” which turned up some pretty scary results. I also happened upon a few articles on dairy protein allergy and intolerance, and this then became my hope that that was all we were dealing with. He continued to then poop with small streaks of blood every 30 minutes or so. It seemed as if his body had just had enough, and he was miserable.
The next day I took him in to the pediatrician, who asked me if we had visited any farms recently. I responded no, and he explained that he thought we were dealing with a bacterial infection of some sort, possibly salmonella or E-coli. He wanted to do a stool test to rule it out, at the very least. I knew that wasn’t the issue at all, and brought up the possibility of a dairy intolerance, but he considered that to be rare (it is NOT), and told me “No baby is allergic or intolerant to his own mother’s milk.”
We completed the stool test which came back negative. Our baby continued to bleed with every stool, several times a day, and after doing my own research, I decided to go straight to a pediatric GI. We found one visiting from UCSF and booked the earliest appointment possible. He examined our little guy for any tears in his rectum, and he found none. After telling him our story, he came to the same conclusion I had already reached- we were dealing with a dairy intolerance or allergy, among several possible others. He also supported my belief that the offender was in my milk as well, irritating his gut lining even further. He explained that if a child has this issue, the allergen will actually eat holes into the child’s intestine, resulting in blood in the stool- and that if it was a dairy issue, the protein DOES pass into breast milk (depending on the amount of dairy in the diet, it would take about three to four weeks to leave entirely). He suggested I stop nursing at least until we knew the issue, OR to cut out the top eight allergens from my diet ( dairy, nuts, corn, soy, eggs, wheat, peanuts, fish, shellfish). He put him on an elemental formula that I had read about (Neocate, though Elecare is the same type of formula), and he said this would heal his gut faster than anything else. My son was four months old at the time, so I did not see weaning him as a viable option. I cut the top eight allergens from my diet instead, which meant I ate turkey, chicken, and vegetables for all three meals for the two weeks it took to be seen by a pediatric allergist. We also supplemented with Neocate, which was such a relief because we knew that he would not react at all to this formula.
Once seen by the allergist, we completed the blood work necessary for allergen testing. All tests returned negative. The blood work can be misleading, however, because an intolerance will not show in blood work. It was at this point that I resumed eating a normal diet, sans any dairy products. He was given the diagnosis of a severe dairy intolerance, and if I was to continue breast feeding I would need to cut all dairy from my diet. It was a hard journey, and one that felt insurmountable at times. Dairy is in everything- and I quickly learned the names for dairy that can be hidden in product labels. You can find a list that helped me here. It is NOT as easy as cutting milk,yogurt,butter, ice cream, and cheese from your diet. You will need to become a bit of an expert, and it’s overwhelming, but I promise it gets easier.
Within about two to three weeks I saw his stools become more normal, and all traces of visible blood vanished. I took him back to our pediatrician who retested his stool to make sure that it was indeed clear of all blood, including invisible traces. His crying became less frequent, he slept better, and he began to put on weight- it was truly an answered prayer for us to see his improvement. As for me, I found it easier to maintain the diet once I had a solid list of foods I could eat, and a backup plan for times when I couldn’t eat at home. You can find a guide for dairy free eating out here. Finding a dairy free or “Vegan” option for each of my favorite foods was incredibly helpful. I found an almond milk coffee ice cream, and this was like hitting the lottery. Also, Whole Foods makes vegan donuts that taste exactly like a regular donut, which has restored my faith in humanity greatly.
I would make an entire list of dairy free products, but that would be reinventing the wheel. Here’s a list that has updated information. It’s important to always check the labels before you purchase an item, as ingredients can change without notice.
I hope our story can help others in some way. Once I did my own research I began to understand why SO many babies have “colic” and digestive upsets. It is my belief (and that of many others) that our bodies are not made to ingest cows’ milk, as it is meant to be breast milk for calves, not humans. Most of us eventually tolerate cows’ milk, as my son does now, after much trial and error. I’ve found that he can have some things, like ice cream or chocolate, and not others, like milk shakes and certain cheeses. He will still have painful cramps and abnormal poop if he has too much dairy. My youngest son has also shown a mild intolerance, but I believe that his would be just as severe if we had followed the same path of regular formula and not restricting dairy from my diet from the beginning.
I am proof that this sort of lifestyle change is possible, as I have been eating a dairy free diet for over four years now. I miss cheese, and regular ice cream, and all of those things- but I also know that this is temporary, and if it can save my child any discomfort at all while I breast feed, then I will continue to do it.
Please feel free to comment with any questions, or shoot me an email if you need more information or resources to help you or a mom you know on this journey!