Allergies are on the rise, especially with kids. Cow’s Milk Protein Allergy (CMPA) is the most common childhood allergy, and is especially prevalent in boys (why boys they do not know). Lots of people who think they are dealing with colic are actually dealing with CMPA. Dealing with CMPA when you are breastfeeding can be particularly challenging. Please note, this post does not constitute medical advice, this is my personal experience of it. If you would like to read more of my posts about breastfeeding then please see my ultimate guide to breastfeeding that contains links to all of my breastfeeding posts from my 7 years of nursing my 2 kids.
My experience of CMPA and breastfeeding
Signs of CMPA in breastfed baby
When my son was six months old we found out that he was allergic to cow’s milk protein. With hindsight we should have known from birth, there were a lot of signs in retrospect:
- He had formula two times in the first two days (we were ignorant about him getting enough from nursing, falling into the usual first time parent ‘booby traps’ you find in a formula feeding culture) and each time he vomited for hours and was really unsettled after having it.
- He had reflux as an infant, we could never lie him flat – he would be sick so we had to hold him for 30 minutes after feeds or incline him. He was very windy and struggled with that.
- He also had bad eczema.
Friends online suggested CMPA but I didn’t take it seriously, after all I had mentioned it to my health care professionals and they had brushed it off. It must have been in the back of my mind though. At 6 months, breastfeeding was still painful for me (I had been let down by our system – more on that in another post) so we were considering switching to formula. I had an instinct that he might react to it so I suggested we mix an ounce with his breakfast so we could monitor him after it rather than just giving him a full bottle at bedtime.
CMPA symptoms – CMPA hives
I’m so pleased we did as he immediately started to choke after a couple of spoonfuls. His face came up in nasty red hives, they covered most of his body and then his limbs swelled.
Visit to A&E
We ended up at the local children’s accident and emergency. While there I googled (as you do) and CMPA fit like a glove. It seemed so obvious now.
He had his oxygen levels checked, heart rate etc and was given an antihistamine. The consultant said he thought CMPA too. He prescribed some hypoallergenic formula but said at his age he might reject it as it doesn’t taste nice – which he vehemently did.
CMPA dairy elimination diet
At this point, after doing some research online, I decided to cut dairy from my diet entirely and monitor the impact. His symptoms improved quickly and dramatically. What was most noticeable was that his skin really cleared from his chronic eczema. I ended up nursing him for 2.5 years and was dairy-free for most of that. My son is still highly allergic at 4 although we hope he will grow out of it.
CMPA in subsequent children
I also suspected my daughter might have CMPA when she was born. So many normal newborn issues are the same as CMPA symptoms. It’s hard to cut dairy initially to test, as you need to cut milk for a month to get it out of your system but in that time a newborn changes significantly every week so it would be difficult to know what was age and what was the removal of dairy.
We waited until she was 3 months old then I did a dairy trial with her and cut dairy for a month. Fortunately, it turned out I was just being paranoid with her, she’s not allergic to anything so far and oh my it’s a lot easier with a kid that can eat anything! The freedom!
Going dairy free whilst breastfeeding
Going dairy-free is pretty tough at first, it shocks you how much stuff it’s in, they add cow’s milk protein to so many things; crisp flavourings, slices of packaged meat, sauces, gravy etc. You have to check the labels of everything! It’s pretty frustrating.
It’s hardest for the first couple of weeks. You have to get used to checking stuff, get used to seeing what foods milk might be in and the hardest part is missing foods you like that you can’t abide substitutes to yet, like cheese. It’s hard to miss cheese! A life without cheese feels like a life not worth living!
After the first couple of weeks though, you start to forget what the real stuff tastes like and become acclimatised to the substitutes, like tea with soya or coconut milk instead of cows milk tastes yuk at first but you get used to it. You stop missing cheese so much! Also, through trial and error you discover which recipes and products you do and don’t like and which are great ‘accidentally vegan’ products.
Positive thinking about CMPA and breastfeeding
Adjusting mentally – to get me through going dairy free I used the following positive mantras:
1. Instead of focussing on the negatives and what you can’t have, see this as an opportunity to try new foods and recipes you might have otherwise never tried. This worked too by the way, it really broadened my horizons and now it’s over, I can see the value in the experience.
2. Remember that however long you have to cut dairy for a nursling, it’s such a small part of your life, a few years perhaps. It may feel like a long time when you are in it but in a lifetime it’s a drop in the ocean.
3. It’s good to experience and live the life your child will for a time. You test out all the things they eat, you know what works. When everyone is dairy free it’s much easier and the kid feels less isolated too.
4. ‘They’ always says dairy is bad for you and the environment anyway. It does force you to eat and cook way more real foods and less processed which can only be a good thing.
Support when you are dealing with CMPA and breastfeeding
I can only talk about my own personal experiences of the allergy but allergies can manifest in many different ways so do some research, Allergy UK is a great place to start.
There are a few great social media accounts you can follow for help, advice and product suggestions:
- Accidentally Vegan UK on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram
- Facebook CMPA support group for breastfeeding
- Facebook CMPA support group
- Facebook CMPA support page
- Facebook CMPA support group for weaning
- Facebook Breastfeeding with CPMA and other food allergies – support group UK
Adjusting physically to CMPA and breastfeeding
- Be mindful of your calcium intake, increase calcium rich foods and/or take a wholefood supplement
- Eat foods rich in calcium include leafy dark greens like spinach and kale, sesame seeds, chick peas/houmous and tofu.
- Be mindful of overall calories and fat – as a nursing Mam you have extra demands on your body, be careful of losing too much weight too quickly
- You many find after a while your nursling may tolerate small amounts of cooked or baked dairy but may not tolerate milk or yogurt. I found after a while that the occasional bit of pizza wouldn’t cause him harm. Much to my delight. Cooking breaks down the milk proteins and when baking the milk protein can bind to other proteins reducing how allergenic it can be.
My favourite dairy free substitutions
Now for the good stuff, a list of my favourite substitutions. Please note, some of these contain ‘may contain milk’. This is often on products that don’t have milk in the ingredients list but have been made in a factory with other products containing milk products. Personally, I didn’t avoid these for myself while breastfeeding, as my son didn’t react to them through breastmilk but you need to use your own judgement on this as your personal circumstances and allergy sensitivity may differ significantly from ours. Edited to add: It has now been 5 years since I wrote this post and now there are a lot more substitution products on the market thankfully!
- Oatly semi-skimmed for tea, Alpro soya milk for cereals
- Original Hob nobs
- Rich tea biscuits
- Fox’s dark chocolate chip cookies
- Jammy dodgers (although they are changing the recipe to dairy so keep an eye on these)
- Pink wafer biscuits
- Party rings
- 9 bars
- Eat natural dark chocolate bars
- Hale and Hearty Date and Chocolate Flapjacks (so damn tasty!)
- Nature’s Store chocolate spread
- Pure dairy free spreads
- Flora spreads are all dairy free bar their buttery one
- Pom bears
- BBQ kettlechips
- Sea salt and cider vinegar kettle chips
- Most ready salted crisps – be cautious with salt and vinegar as some have milk in (crazy I know)
- Velvet Crunch Salt and Vinegar
- Weetabix chocolate chip minis
- Coco pops
- Rice crispies
- Crunchy nut cornflakes
- Jordan’s Country Crisp Chocolate
- There are no good cheese substitutions, there just isn’t. I’m sorry. Violife is the best of a bad bunch.
- Green and Blacks 70% plus dark chocolates
- Lindt excellence bars 70% and above
- Hotel chocolat have a dairy free range
- Booja booja chocolates
- Swedish glacé vanilla
- Ben and Jerry’s dairy free range
- Betty Crockers Devil’s Food chocolate cake mix and chocolate fudge frosting (great for birthday cakes, so tasty and you can use a can of coke instead of egg if you are egg free too)
- Betty Crockers chocolate brownie mix
- Betty Crockers chocolate swirl cake mix
- Betty Crockers Velvety Vanilla cake mix
- Betty Crockers buttercream style icing
- Betty Crockers milk chocolate icing
- Ok so lots of Betty Crocker stuff, check them out, they are a great hit here
- Mr Kipling jam tarts
- Aunt Bessie’s Bramley Apple Crumble
- I hate to break it to you but lots of booze have milk proteins in them! Check each label and check out accidentally vegan for recommendations
Favourite dairy free recipes
And here are a couple of my favourite dairy free family friendly recipes:
- Sweet potato quinoa chilli
- Raisin and oatmeal cookies – these are also lactation cookies so you can indulge with the excuse of ‘it’s for the baby’
- Crockpot Jambalaya
- Maple salmon
Hope you find this helpful if you are just starting out with CMPA and breastfeeding. Leave me a comment with your favourite products and recipes and follow nomipalony on Pinterest for regular dairy free recipe pins.
If you liked this post you might also like:
- My guide to breastfeeding
- The ultimate guide to surviving when your kids don’t sleep through the night
- My ultimate guide to pregnancy and childbirth
- My breastfeeding journey
- Pelvic floor dysfunction rehabilitation – online programme review
- Haakaa breast pump review
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Post originally posted March 2016. Updated and reposted July 2021.