“Don’t freak out. Don’t freak out. Don’t freak out.” That’s what I kept telling myself as I totally and completely freaked out. There was blood in my baby’s diaper. I thought I’d seen something suspicious in the last couple of diapers, but nothing like this. This was blood, and I was in full panic mode.
Do kids ever get sick during the week? Or even during the day during the week? Nope. It’s like they keep a copy of the pediatrician’s office hours stashed in their onesies. So, Sunday afternoon found us on the road to the ER – my husband driving, me in the backseat as if sitting next to my baby might actually help the situation. My husband dropped us off while he parked so I could start the check-in process. I nervously rocking the baby carrier as I filled out the paperwork. He wasn’t crying. He was just sitting there looking all tiny and helpless.
Ever since we brought Jacob home from the hospital he had had “tummy issues” of one variety or another. Tummy issues also meant sleeping issues and eating issues and crying issues and mommy-crying issues and daddy-looking-at-mommy-like-she-is-a-crazy-person issues. But we’d made it through the last five months. Until now.
The ER doctor came in to talk to us, and basically made us feel like overprotective newbie parents, took a sample to run some tests, and told us to call the pediatrician the next day. Oh, and they gave him a single dose of over-the-counter ibuprofen that cost around $60. Very helpful. we went home with exactly zero answers.
Our pediatrician is the best, and when I brought Jacob in on Monday along with the most disgusting pictures of every diaper he’d had in the previous 24 hours (I’ve had major trouble getting those off the Cloud, by the way, so bloody dirty diaper pictures still pop up every now and then), she was so nice. She also got angry when she found out that the sample that the hospital staff had taken had apparently just gone in the trash, because no test had been run to figure out what might be wrong with my child.
Her anger made me so happy. It meant that someone else cared that something bad was going on in my kid’s body and it was about time we figure it out. She took another sample and ran some tests to rule out some of the scarier options (all negative), but she also told me that there was a good chance this was an allergy to something I was eating and that dairy was a likely culprit.
She suggested I cut it out entirely and see if that helped.
Why not formula? Well, there were a few reasons that was not my first choice. The health benefits of breast milk were a consideration of course, but also Jacob and I had finally found a good groove when it came to breastfeeding, and I liked the fact that I didn’t have to do any sort of prep work in the middle of the night when he wanted to eat. (Basically, laziness played a major role.) Breastfeeding was also one of the best tools in my arsenal for getting him to sleep. But cost was a real factor for us, too. Could we have swung formula if we had to? Sure. But I was now a stay-at-home mom and we were a family of three on a tight budget. If we could make breastfeeding work for us, I wanted to. (So, to sum up: lazy and cheap.)
A second side note to moms who formula-feed: You do what works for you and your kid, and don’t expect any judgment from me. Cool? Cool.
As I started researching, I realized how all-encompassing “dairy” was, and I wondered briefly: How much do I really like this kid? I mean, he did cry a lot, but he was pretty dang cute, so I began. No milk, no sour cream, no cheese, no butter. Even non-dairy coffee creamer, while lactose-free, has the milk protein I had to avoid.
Dairy is in everything, and it has a million different names in the food industry. I had to totally change the way I cooked, which meant I had to totally change the way I shopped for groceries. I dropped Jacob off with Grandma and spent two-and-a-half hours at the grocery store just reading labels. I found websites, many of them vegan, and started trying things. I really found a lot of great recipe ideas in “Cooking for Isaiah: Gluten-Free & Dairy-Free Recipes for Easy, Delicious Meals” by Silvana Nardone.
Miraculously, his tummy issues subsided, slowly at first, but then more noticeably. I’m sure part of the improvement can be attributed to his gut developing with age, but the removal of dairy really did make a huge difference. The bleeding had been one of the first things to stop (thank goodness), but he also stopped spitting up as frequently, cried less, was less gassy, and slept better.
There were some low-points in our journey. My favorite cookie recipe – the cookies that I would occasionally come home and make on my lunch break when I was working because they were so quick and easy and good – use a whole stick of butter and a half cup of sour cream. So I tried some variations. Oil instead of butter. Almond milk instead of sour cream. Trash instead of my mouth. Then Febreze the kitchen to get rid of the lingering smell.
I’m sorry to say I never did find a good way to make those cookies dairy-free. But there were some successes, too. I found a good pancake recipe (in “Cooking for Isaiah”), and I found some pasta bakes that don’t rely on cheese to hold them together. We even lived through the holidays. My family was so sweet and tried using a butter substitute to make some of our traditional family recipes, and it somehow made me feel better knowing that everyone else was also eating green beans that tasted like they had been cooked in a tire factory. (Dairy-free can make you a little mean at first.)
Mercifully, most babies outgrow their dairy allergies, and Jacob was not an exception. The pediatrician had me reintroduce dairy a couple of times to see how he responded, and finally, when he was about a year old, he stopped having reactions. I made cookies to celebrate. We nursed for a little while longer, and when he was a little past 13 months, we finally stopped. It was the right time for us. Like so much since becoming a mother, going dairy-free was not something I planned for, but you do what you have to for your babies, even if it means missing out on cookies for a while.
This article was originally published on the Motherhood Collective blog.