Elimination Diet Basics

A dairy-free diet is hard but it can be done -- read on for ways to leave the cow behind for your breastfed baby’s sake.

Woman breastfeeding baby

Sometimes, if your breastfed baby is extra fussy or is showing signs of a food allergy (despite being exclusively breastfed), your pediatrician may suggest that you go on a dairy-free diet. For those who love dairy (which does include the most wonderous of delicacies -- cheese), it can be a hard task.

Casein: The most common culprit

Milk protein allergy is the most common among young children, with casein being the most common protein that is reacted to. This protein can travel through a nursing mom’s breastmilk and through the permeable gut of a baby and cause an allergic sensitivity, which can manifest itself through fussiness, hives and bowel changes (among other symptoms). The easiest course of action for a breastfed baby is an elimination diet for mom.

And a dairy sensitivity doesn’t mean your baby will be allergic to milk her whole life, or even after she weans. Some little ones are just more tender-bellied than others and are more sensitive to the protein when they are very small.

Elimination diet

Excluding all dairy is the best way to treat a potential food allergy or sensitivity in a little one who is only ingesting breast milk. It may sound easy, but it can be challenging. You’ll need to become an avid label reader. Fortunately, US law requires FDA-regulated manufacturers to list milk as an allergen when any component is present.

It can take a week or two of complete elimination before you notice any improvement, so don’t give up if your baby seems the same after a few days.

Foods to look out for:

  • All obvious dairy, such as milk, cheese, sour cream, creamer, butter, ice cream, custard, yogurt
  • Bread, cake, cookies -- these often have a milk ingredient
  • Lactose-free cheeses and other products -- sometimes they have added casein or whey
  • Click here for a more exhaustive list (PDF) 

Stock up on meat (beef will not cause the same reaction), fruits, veggies, legumes and your favorite seasonings. Avoid eating out and learn some new recipes. You may find yourself not even missing your milk and cheese.

Even if your child has an actual allergy to milk proteins, chances are she’ll outgrow it by the time she enters kindergarten. I’m really hoping that’s the case for my little girl, who first presented with a dairy allergy when she was very small and was confirmed when she was under a year old.

More on allergies

Signs of a food allergy in your baby
Preventing food allergies in babies and children
Safer holidays for tots with food allergies


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