Gabriel: The Dairy Free Kid

Have you ever wondered if you should remove dairy from your child’s diet? How do you know if it’s an allergy or an intolerance? As I work with thousands of parents in the MOMables community, the one question people often ask is: how did you realize your kids were allergic/intolerant to gluten and dairy?

Unlike a peanut allergy that manifests itself immediately, our dairy and gluten intolerances showed symptoms overtime but no real “sign” or “test” that allowed me to label it as an allergy. This is perhaps the most frustrating part for many parents, that “grey-area” where you wonder if something is causing your child harm and whether or not to remove it from their diet.

When in doubt, I opt for removing the item from my child’s diet. There are many things that are wholesome and good, and in my humble opinion, one thing isn’t going to make a big difference in your child’s nutritional intake (as long as you make sure you are providing such nutrients with other foods).*

In short, my youngest son is mostly dairy free and my middle son eats gluten-free. Below you will find Gabriel’s story and how he became my dairy free child. For Alex’s story, the gluten free child, click here.

Gabriel: the dairy free kid. 

When Gabriel was born, he thrived. He was constantly hungry, spit up occasionally, and was very (very) gassy. When he was a month old, I removed dairy and gluten from my diet in order to help him digest my breast milk proteins better. He did great like this until my milk supply wasn’t enough, I was working full time without the ability to pump as much as I needed to, and I had to supplement with formula.

Finding a formula that he could tolerate wasn’t very difficult to do and we opted for one where the milk proteins are broken down for easier digestion. For the most part, he was a healthy baby but around the 7th month he began getting colds often. The pediatrician attributed his stuffy nose, colds, and sinus infections to the older two siblings bringing germs back home from school (Gabriel was kept at home until the age of 1) and to “fall allergies.” He was put on a daily dose of allergy medicine to control the symptoms but he still suffered.

When he was 8 months old, I introduced whole milk baby yogurt (1 per day or every other day). He tolerated them well and was a happy baby after his meals. Soon though, his colds came more often and stayed longer. When he was 10 months old his chest congestion was so bad for three weeks that the pediatrician thought he had pneumonia (a chest x-ray ruled it out but it confirmed a lot of mucus buildup). I was constantly hooking him up to the nebulizer because he couldn’t breathe. The poor baby was miserable and sick for about 2 months. At the same time, he had 4 ear infections between month 6 (shortly after we introduced formula) to right before turning 1.

When Gabriel turned 1, he entered “school” (daycare) 3 days per week. He was sick nearly every week for 2 straight months. Everyone assured me that this was normal and that he needed to get used to the germs and build up his immunity. After the pediatrician said she was sure it sounded like pneumonia (again the chest x-ray ruled it out), I’d had enough with my baby being sick for 7 months straight! I was tired of the allergy medicine, antibiotics, breathing treatments, x-rays, ER visit, and constant visits to the doctor.

I began looking at alternative medicine for help and I often read about eliminating dairy to improve congestion and allergy issues. One day, I decided I would eliminate his 16 ounces of whole (organic) milk and his daily yogurt from Gabriel’s diet. Within one week, all of his congestion went away. A few days later I stopped giving him his daily dose of allergy medicine.

Gabriel has been (mostly) dairy free since January 2013. He eats a little bit of sharp cheddar cheese in his scrambled eggs, goat cheese, and the occasional yogurt. He continues to attend school 3 days per week and hasn’t had a single ear infection since I removed dairy from his diet. He’s had an occasional runny nose and cold in the winter.  I have noticed that when he eats a yogurt a couple of days in a row he gets more congested. Coincidence? Maybe. I know he is physically better without dairy and it works for him. Plus, I’ve been making dairy-free yogurt at home so he can still have his favorite fruit parfaits in his lunchbox and that makes all the difference.

FAQ:
If you don’t give Gabriel dairy, what do you do for bottles? Don’t kids need milk?
Gabriel drinks a combination of canned full-fat coconut milk and almond milk. He has a balanced diet, is growing well and the pediatrician says he is a “thriving kid.” I’ll take it as a sign that he is doing well.

Do you find it hard to substitute dairy in recipes? Does Gabriel eat what everyone else eats?
I make pancakes, muffins, waffles, and smoothies with almond milk so Gabriel can enjoy them.

What happens if he eats dairy?
We are all pretty careful not to give him actual dairy milk products, but when he does eat cow’s milk, ice-cream, cheese or yogurts we make sure he doesn’t have too much in a 24-hour period or a couple of days. If he does, he gets congested, his stool is hard (little pebbles) and he doesn’t sleep well (wakes up a few times per night).

Do you buy dairy free cheese or cheese substitutes?
No. I don’t like the ingredients in many of those products and the taste isn’t that great. I make homemade nut-cheese that tastes very similar to cream cheese or use goat cheese if I really need it.

If Gabriel doesn’t drink milk, where does he get the calcium from?
There are many sources where Gabriel is currently getting his calcium from. Green vegetables, sesame seeds (he loves hummus), nuts, his almond milk, and goat cheese.

Do you think he will outgrow this?
Whether or not Gabriel outgrows his lactose/dairy consumption side effects isn’t really important to me. He is a happy child and is growing well. As a parent, his health and happiness is all I care about.

So, is he lactose intolerant or allergic to dairy?
Gabriel is not allergic to dairy. He can consume dairy in moderation and his body tolerates it. He is dairy/lactose intolerant, and like many, can consume aged cheese and some yogurt (in moderation).

What did your pediatrician say about removing dairy from Gabriel’s diet?
When I went to my pediatrician for Gabriel’s 1 year check up, I told the doctor that I was going to remove dairy from his diet. She agreed that in his case, it might be a good idea and she has seen some kids improve their allergy symptoms when dairy was removed. He has improved, is no longer taking any medicine, and I’ve never looked back.

Do you still buy dairy items for your family?
I do. Everyone else tolerates them well. I purchase full fat (mostly organic) dairy. 
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*I am not a healthcare professional. The above post is my story and how I removed dairy from my son’s diet. What you choose to do with your child’s diet is your choice and I encourage you to seek the opinion of a medical professional.