Monday, 30 January 2012

Breastfeeding a baby with cow's milk allergy means no more milk for me!

So, decision made! 

A bit daunted, I decided to breastfeed baby. 

Knowing what I do now, I sometimes wonder whether (faced with the same situation) I would do it all again, but knowing me, I probably would. I don't always make things easy for myself, but if I believe in something then I follow it through - to the extent that two years down the line, I'm still breastfeeding my rather bigger 'Baby'!* 

Excluding milk

The paediatrician, whose interest just happened to be in food allergies, was a bit sketchy about what I should do but did advise excluding absolutely ALL forms of cow's milk from my diet - which meant reading ALL labels on ALL food products and medication ( I remind my GP, each time I'm offered a prescription). He also recommended (as I was  unable to have soya milk) using Oatley as a milk substitute but warned against using rice milk - more of which another time.

Fortunately for me, my mother happens to be acquainted with a retired dietician who used to work with a Doctor who specialised in allergies. This acquaintance passed on some important information - chief of which, was was that milk is an important source of calcium in our diets, so if I was going to go dairy free, it was essential to take a good calcium supplement along with vitamin D (vitamin D helps your body absorb the calcium). 

The other key information related to the different guises that milk comes in on food labelling - milk powder, cream, yoghurt, butter, fromage frais, buttermilk and cheese are perhaps pretty obvious, whey and curds, yeah I remember learning about cheese at school, lactose also made sense, but casein? That was a new one on me! 

The practicalities

There was so much to absorb about this new dairy free existence and it hasn't been easy. Life is a lot less spontaneous! I soon became acutely aware of how much eating is a core activity in the day - my days have had to be planned around what, when and where we will eat. 

So I have had to cook a lot more - ready meals are not so easily available. This is a good thing (I tell myself) because it is a lot more healthy, BUT it is a lot more time-consuming! It has certainly meant brushing-up my cooking skills. I've also had to adjust the way I cook - so many recipes use milk and sometimes there are no easy substitutes - especially, if, like me, you can't have soya.

We have found that although it's getting better, many cafes and restaurants have no idea about how to provide for even the most common food allergies, such as dairy (and now gluten, with me, too) even if they say they do, so, going out always means taking food with you - just in case. 

Because eating out in restaurants can be tricky, it has affected days out, social occasions, family get-togethers and even where we go on holiday. 

Shopping is not so easy these days, either. Most supermarkets have 'Free From' sections, but you can't buy all your food there, so all food labels need to be examined very carefully. Particularly as with our baby we've discovered we need to check for the slightest traces of milk. 

This is a particularly good Free From aisle. Unfortunately many stores don't stock this much choice.

One thing I have discovered is that 'may contain traces of milk' can depend on how the product is manufactured and even what batch. Others with cow's milk allergy might not be so sensitive, BUT following the occasions where this has caused problems, we no longer like to take the chance. As baby has a delayed reaction, it's not life-threatening, but it causes her a great deal of pain - not something we like to inflict on our little one, unnecessarily!

And, as I'm now milk and soya free, I find myself going on shopping expeditions in all kinds of different places, just to track down milk and soya free substitutes that can't commonly be found in supermarkets. These are often more expensive!! And tracking these products down can be very time-consuming!! Thank goodness for the Internet and online shopping is all I can say!!

If you can have soya, lucky you!! Soya substitutes are pretty good - most forms of dairy can be substituted pretty well, with soya and soya substitutes can be found everywhere - including many restaurants and cafes!

Soya substitutes, like these, are quite common

The sacrifices

It hasn't been easy having to sacrifice things that I loved. I've missed my lattes, cheese, cakes, puddings etc. etc. especially in the early days. There are times when I have felt quite jealous of everyone else eating 'normally' and even a little bit... well... angry? But then I remind myself that it was my decision to carry on breastfeeding my baby, no-one made me, and there is still so much more food that, thankfully, I can still enjoy or could - until I had a tummy bug and became intolerant to wheat (among other things) but that's a whole different story.

The joys

Along with the sacrifice there are some joys that should be mentioned. No claims that I feel healthier or have lost weight on a dairy free diet, however, my baby is healthier and thriving. That to me, is priceless, and on a more practical note although we initially had problems with breastfeeding and it has meant an awful lot of sitting down, it's quite handy and convenient! No more washing and sterilising etc. etc. (anything for less work, me) and it's with you wherever you go and isn't another thing to shove in your already overburdened change bag!!

Summing up

Time on, I must admit, I still miss those leisurely lattes I envisaged myself having once baby was born, but not so much these days - I now enjoy my black coffee and I can still have chocolate - there's a lot more dairy free chocolate out there, these days! All I know is that I did what I felt I had to do, and my baby is a healthy, happy and thriving little girl - which makes it all worthwhile.

*This is by no means what I originally intended - it came about partly because she still can't tolerate cow's milk protein but still needs calcium in her diet. The other reason is that I have an intolerance to soya milk - a common cow's milk substitute. Some people with cow's milk protein allergy have been known to also be unable to tolerate soya, so I have hung back a bit from introducing her to soya, until fairly recently. 

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