Monday, 2 February 2015

So, you're weaning... dairy free!

Inspired by a conversation I had with someone, just this morning!

Dear Dairy Free Mum,

It's not how you imagined it would be, is it?? It's all become a bit scary - now that weaning is approaching! You're worried about how it will all pan out, and other people breezily telling you not to worry is not much help!

Can I give you permission to have a little weep about it first? Or even a big weep, if that's what's needed. I've been there. I know what you're going through.

Then let me tell you that even if it doesn't feel good now, it will be okay. 

I remember as a child watching 'Dad's Army' on the telly, and chuckling away at the frequently heard refrain: 

'Don't panic, Mr Mainwearing!'

But that is honestly not much help when you are actually panicking is it? 

Looking back, there's a lot I take for granted now, that didn't come so easily, when first 'Baby' was diagnosed with cow's milk protein intolerance (actually cow's milk protein allergy). A whole lot of learning has taken place since then and what a journey it has been! There's stuff that I've already shared about our weaning process that I don't really want to go through again, but if you're interested, you can read about it here.

However, I would like to pass on some quick words of advice to anyone just beginning that weaning process and wondering what on earth they're going to do and how they're going to get through it, I mean everyone feeds their small kids fromage frais, and cheese strings don't they?

Weeeeell, not quite!

Here's some little pointers for you!

1) Your baby can live a healthy life without dairy!

Hear me now: I by no means make the claim that a dairy free diet is healthier for you,(although I know that some people do), however.... did you know that it is entirely possible (and even desirable to some) to live your life totally without dairy - many Vegans do! The main thing is to discover what is lacking from a 'normal' diet, if you miss out the dairy and then supplement your diet, in order to fill in the gaps. 

The main things that would be missing from your diet, as far as I can tell, are calcium, B vitamins and zinc (unless you're American, in which case, your milk is fortified with vitamin D). If you're not a Vegan, you don't need to worry about the last two - as they're found in found in meat and eggs (B vitamins), meat, fish and pulses (zinc) so you're consuming it all the time. And even if you aren't dairy free, it's a good idea to educate yourself about calcium anyway, in order to avoid osteoporosis in later life! You can read more about that here and here.

2) You can substitute dairy!

Dairy substitutes are much more readily available than they ever used to be - even since my daughter was first diagnosed, just over five years ago!

Some substitutes for dairy, (see our page for more posts about these) are arguably more necessary than others and some that are (again arguably) better than others, nutritionally, as well as taste/texture wise!

You don't have to eat your cereal dry, but 'Baby' prefers it that way, with dairy free milk in a cup!

Dairy free/Vegan cheese quite often tastes rank to any 'normal' cheese lover (I always prefer mine toasted) it's also nutritionally not anywhere near a match for you as real cheese, and is high in salt. You really don't need it, unless you're a dairy free person who used to eat cheese and you miss the flavour! Use it as flavouring by all means, if you need to, but your dairy free little one has no expectation of eating cheese - they won't have a clue what they're missing out on - unless perhaps they see other family members regularly consuming it around them, and even then, they will still have no idea what it tastes like (unless they were diagnosed at a later stage, which is different). If you want to find a decent dairy free cheese, take a look at our dairy free subs page.

Similarly dairy free yogurt does not always live up to the nutritional benefits of cow's milk yogurt. There are a few that are supplemented with calcium, but not to the same level. Again, flavourwise, they don't always match up. although the new Koko yogurts are pretty good and DO match the calcium of a 'normal' yogurt! However, dairy free ice cream... well I may never return to dairy ice cream again, having tasted some of these! In fact, a friend of the family now often chooses dairy free Swedish Glace ice cream over normal ice cream, when shopping at the supermarket, because he tried it once at our house and liked it so much!

3) Inform yourself

Get the best advice you can (which is presumably why you are online now and reading this). Finding information online is a bit hit and miss, though, so make sure you ask your GP to refer you to a dietitian (as early as possible, because you may have to wait some time for an appointment). 

It may be that your dietitian's referral is actually arranged via your allergy consultant - it works best when consultants and dietitians are working together, in the same unit, but that might not be the way they work things out in your area (each NHS trust does things differently). They will be able to give you advice about how you can safely feed your little one and will keep an eye on your child's weight/height to make sure they're thriving okay. 

Meanwhile, inform yourself responsibly about weaning in general, including things like safe amounts of salt and sugar. Pick the up the principles, don't worry about some of the details. Bear in mind that times change and so do approaches and products. The most important thing is to understand the principles. Apply the principles, using the 'normal' food your child can eat and the dairy substitutes that are suitable for a child of the age of your child. See here for more information about this.

4) You can listen to advice from others, but... 

...don't necessarily follow it! 

By this I mean the well-meaning parent/mother-in-law/friend/or even 'better' half', who tries telling you to try a little bit of yogurt or that a little bit of something with milk in can't/won't hurt your little one (it can)! I haven't yet thought up a polite winning line for people who think they are being helpful, but really aren't. If you can devise one in advance, it may help you!

5) You can 'listen' to your baby...

... and take your cues from them

I was not expecting to be a so-called 'Baby Whisperer' before my little one came along, I was expecting to be the new Gina Ford - she seemed to make so much sense - until I met 'Baby' that is! All babies are different and respond differently to new foods and well, everything else really (including sleep patterns). There's no 'one size fits all'!! 

What do I mean by that? SO many people thought I should begin weaning earlier than I did. To be fair I did try, but 'Baby' clearly wasn't ready to swallow solid food - it went round her mouth and came straight back out again! So I gave up and waited until she was six months old, before trying again. 

Learning about Baby-Led Weaning and 'Food 'til One is Fun' (based on the premise that milk should be babies main nutritional source until the age of one) massively helped me to relax, ignore the 'good' advice and 'listen' to what my little one was 'telling' me! It really doesn't seem to have done 'Baby' any harm! She is above average height/weight for her age and has hit all the usual milestones, so I can't have gone too badly wrong, can I??

Baby-Led Weaning was great, because we ditched pureeing foods so had less preparation and washing-up to do. To be clear, though, we were careful about it, so our approach was Baby-Led with modifications - one food at a time, until we had established a 'safe' bank of foods to work from, and then we made meals (for all of us) based around those 'safe' foods, before expanding our range further.

6) Try going dairy free!

I had to go dairy free to breastfeed my daughter, and I absolutely desperately wanted to breastfeed! In retrospect, although tough to begin with, it actually informed me greatly about what else was out there! As a family we all eat pretty much dairy free, except when we are out and can choose different options. The Hub has a coffee in the morning the occasional ready meal, when he's working from home and contraband - sneaky snacks and biscuits late at night - but that's about it, really!

So, I challenge you to try going dairy free yourself, for a short while - maybe a week, so you know what you can/can't have. See it as a fun experiment, even try out some baking if you like. There are lots of substitutes for dairy (see here) and chocolate (see here) and other stuff (see here) out there, so give them a go - you may surprise yourself and actually enjoy them! But do make sure you supplement your diet accordingly (see Point 1) above). 

7) There's lots of 'normal' food you can still eat!

Yes! I was so delighted when first I heard that supermarket own brand Hobnobs were dairy free (I wasn't gluten free, then)! In fact many supermarket own brands often are - as making products with vegetable oil is cheaper than using milk! So get checking those  food labels! In fact you don't have to - we have a 'Fave Products' list (see here), but also supermarkets often have lists that detail which of their products are dairy free. 

8) Take it one step at a time!

Don't look too far ahead! Just concentrate on what you need to do now, today. Unless you're planning a holiday, in which case you might want to check out these posts

9) Take care of yourself

There's no denying it can be stressful. Look after yourself, get sleep, rest, recreation etc. You need to be able to switch off sometimes and focus on other stuff. 

Also find 'safe' places where you can offload - there's loads of lovely people online in the same boat who are really supportive - especially when you need to let off steam! I started off on Mumsnet's Allergy thread, and am now on Face Book and Twitter.

10) Enjoy your baby!

Although I am smiling in almost all the photos from our early days, it took me until 'Baby' was nine months old to be able to relax and enjoy her. 

Yes, that long!! 

I actually remember the moment I became conscious of it too - I was at a baby sensory class and suddenly realised that I felt happy, relaxed and content with my baby. It made me conscious of just how much stress and anxiety I had been carrying and living with. I can't actually tell you HOW to achieve this - only know that it is possible and you will get there! Until then, like 'Dory' in 'Finding Nemo,'  'Just keep swimming, just keep swimming...'

There! That's it for now - if you follow all the links I've included, you'll be suffering from information overload! If you need to contact me regarding anything to do with this post, you can contact me via Twitter @dairyfree, or send me a message via our Face Book page 'Dairy Free Baby and Me'.

Love and hugs



P.S. If you do need to resort to Baby Foods bought from the Supermarket...

(lets face it, we all do, to some extent) you can find out which are safe by checking out the manufacturers website. They normally have allergy advice of some kind, or an allergy filter see here for an example - check out the side bar on the left of the page, for the various categories.

Important update:

It's now thought that in order to avoid developing peanut allergy, peanuts should be introduced fairly early on in the weaning process. More details can be found in these blog posts by Dr Carina Venter RD:

Feeding your baby peanuts - Q&A

Weaning beyond peanut Part 1

Weaning beyond peanut Part 2

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