I had never heard of milk intolerance before becoming a mom. Lactose intolerance, sure. But milk protein intolerance is completely different. Not really an allergy, MSPI (milk-soy protein intolerance) is when the body is unable to safely process the large protein molecules found in cow’s milk. As a result, the stomach may overproduce acid and the intestines become irritated, leading to mucus and sometimes blood. Both my babies were born with an MSPI. And, being a first-time parent, my first baby suffered for 3 months because I just didn’t know enough to ask more questions of the pediatrician or to advocate for myself. But as it turns out, all my knowledge and experience still left me unprepared for my second baby’s MSPI as well.
Bean was 8 weeks old when I finally called “uncle” and went to a lactation consultant for help with my screamy baby who was clearly hungry but fussed every time I attempted to nurse her. She had gone from the 35th percentile to the 10th but the pediatrician didn’t have any ideas for me other than to try formula. Every feed was a nightmare and getting her to eat required a combination of baby wearing and bouncing on a big exercise ball in the bathroom with the fan running. It was exactly the kind of horrible breastfeeding experience that prevents new moms from nursing long-term. But I never suspected a milk intolerance because her symptoms weren’t as severe as her big sister’s.
My oldest would projectile vomit after feeds, her diapers were filled with mucus, and the pediatrician found signs of blood in her stool. But with the littlest, the only symptoms were her fussiness and her trouble breastfeeding. I spent 8 weeks convinced it must be something else before the LC suggested I visit a pediatric gastroenterologist who diagnosed her right away. Grudgingly, I went on a dairy fast, giving up any food with soy or milk protein.
Within a week, I had a whole new baby. She was sleeping better, screaming less, and after two weeks, had jumped back into the 30th percentile. It was, quite frankly, a miracle. I had seen similar results with Doodlebug, but giving up the dairy was so hard on me emotionally, that we ended up using hypoallergenic formula with her. I remember rocking her in the big reclining rocker at my parents’ house sobbing “I’m sorry” over and over as I filled her up with formula. Looking back, it was absolutely the best thing for both of us. She thrived on the formula and it immediately alleviated much of the anxiety I was suffering from. With Bean, giving up the dairy didn’t seem as daunting, perhaps because I had already had some practice. Also? My overwhelming PPD and OCD the first time around made breastfeeding torturous, let alone an elimination diet. With Bean, I was mentally healthy enough to take on the added challenge. And is is a challenge.
It’s been 2 years, and though we keep attempting to introduce dairy into her diet, every week spent with milk results in sleepless nights and a cranky toddler. I’ve been able to reintroduce cheese into my own diet (I could hear angels singing, folks), but for the first 18 months, I was completely dairy-free. I wouldn’t wish such a difficult diet on anyone, but it is possible, and for some mom-baby pairs, may make life much easier overall.
So let’s be honest. Dinners weren’t so hard to modify. After all, spaghetti and meatballs is dairy free, as is most grilled meats, fresh fruits and veggies, and many breads. But how did I live without cheese (and ice cream, and milk, and cookies, and chocolate)? While there are really no good soy and milk-free cheese substitutes (I really did give them a fair shot), I found that hummus often worked in place of cheese in fajitas and even sandwiches. Whole Foods sells a cheese-free pizza with roasted veggies that is pretty yummy for those days when you Just. Want. Pizza. And So Delicious makes coconut milk yogurt, ice cream and my favorite, coffee creamer. I actually prefer the coconut coffee creamer now. Coconut milk is great for baking, as is Earth Balance soy-free margarine, and to my surprise, cocoa butter isn’t actually butter and contains no dairy! So as long as your chocolate doesn’t list casein, milk, or whey as an ingredient, you can eat it! Lindt makes a dark chocolate that we really love here, but my favorite trick is to buy a huge 1 pound block of 65% chocolate from Whole Foods. We chop it up and snack on it for a month! The key for me was finding substitutes for my favorite foods so I didn’t feel like I was depriving myself of the comfort foods I loved.
Here are some of my favorite MSPI and Dairy-free resources:
MSPI Mama – tons of recipes and resources, including a QUICK START recipe list for the first few weeks of MSPI eating when everything is so overwhelming.
Tasty Eats at Home – my friend Alta writes about her food journey and has many recipes and resources for eating dairy and gluten-free
The best advice I can give you is to be realistic with yourself about how the MSPI diet is affecting your happiness. If it makes you miserable, it may not be worth continuing to breastfeed your MSPI baby. But it DOES get easier with time. After about 6 months I stopped missing cheese, and these days, I don’t even mourn the ice cream any longer. Truly. It also had the added benefit that watching my diet carefully taught me to be aware of my food. I eat a much healthier diet now, just because I learned to read ingredients and to cook more food from scratch. But each mom has to decide what’s best for her family. Hopefully you have enough support no matter how you decide to address your baby’s MSPI.