A month before I found out I was pregnant with my first baby, I started a dairy-free diet. This was because since I was about 18, I had been getting more and more intermittent stomach pain. I had lots of blood test and an ultrasound, to check for coeliac disease and other illnesses, but other than a slightly raised biliruben (possibly Gilbert’s Syndrome), they had all come back negative. My GP suspected I had irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) because that is the condition that most fit my symptoms. She suggested going dairy-free because dairy and wheat are known to increase the symptoms of IBS.
It was really hard at first to think of any food to eat that didn’t contain dairy. I obviously had a diet high in dairy without realising it. Think about your diet… What’s for breakfast? Cereal with MILK, lunch? – toasted sandwich with CHEESE, dinner? – fettucini CARBONARA, snacks? – YOGHURT or scones with jam and CREAM! I felt like I’d never eat yummy food again. I took a calcium supplement and swapped dairy for soy milk, icecream and sour cream, but it took a lot of getting used to. So occasionally I’d falter, especially for a delicious looking caramelly sticky date pudding, but I’d pay for it later.
When I became pregnant I was concerned over whether my dairy-free diet would affect my baby’s growth, development or food tolerances. I researched a little bit and there seemed to be a few trains of thought. 1) It wouldn’t affect the baby at all, as long as I took calcium supplements, 2) my baby could develop food intolerances because he was not being exposed to dairy whilst in my uterus and 3) my baby would be at less risk of intolerances if I remained dairy-free for a few weeks prior to birth and the duration of breastfeeding (this is the evidence based view held by Royal Prince Alfred (RPA) Allergy Unit). So since there was nothing much I could do about it, I stayed dairy-free (besides the uncommon lapses).
When my baby was 5 weeks old, I discovered blood in his pooey nappy. I absolutely freaked out as I had absolutely no idea what had caused it (the allergy thing didn’t even cross my mind). I went to the GP that day and she actually freaked out too. She sent off a stool sample and blood tests and gave me an urgent referral to see a paediatrician. She also called the paediatrician’s surgery to see if she could get me in any quicker. I am thankful for her help because I got an appointment within the week when it normally is a 2-3 month wait.
The paediatrician assessed my baby and asked me to repeat the blood test, as the previous result had showed low clotting factor. Let me tell you, it is traumatic seeing a 6 week old baby being stabbed repeatedly until the blood collectors find a “good” vein… Horrible. Thankfully that test came back with no irregularities. The paed then deduced that the bloody stool was most likely caused by a milk allergy. I informed him that I had a dairy-free diet (though I did confessed to slipping up occasionally). He then informed me that I would have to be very strictly dairy-free, then if that didn’t resolve the problem, progressively also eliminate soy, eggs and nuts. He told me to look out for mucous mixed in with the poo, which I then realised I had been seeing for a few weeks without recognising it was abnormal.
I started being really strictly dairy-free. The mucous and blood remained. I eliminated soy – the mucous and blood remained. I had a big eggy breakfast and that day he had the most blood I had seen in his stool. So bye-bye egg. The same thing happened after nuts. So by about 3 months of age, with my baby still purely breastfeeding, I was on a dairy, soy, egg and nut free diet. If you thought dairy-free was hard, imagine what this was like. I lived on bread, fruit, veg and meat. I made my own sweets, substituting the allergy food with rice milk, nuttelex, “no-egg” and corn flake crumbs. I became quite creative.
I visited the paediatrician a few times for follow-ups. On one of these visits, when bub was about 5 months of age, with the mucous and blood still continuing in most poos, the paed gave me a referral to a pediatric gastroenterologist. On our first visit, she advised me to cease breastfeeding for a week and give him a trial of “neocate” formula, which is a hypoallergenic formula designed especially for cow’s milk allergy. That week was absolute hell. He’d never had a bottle before, he hated the taste of the formula, he would scream and spit it out and I only managed to get half his quota in the whole week so he had to be fed twice as often and was constipated. I had to express every 3 hours, 24 hours a day to maintain my supply (which went from 180mls out of each breast, to 80mls from both together). BUT… He did stop having mucous and blood stools.
The gastroenterologist suggested I wean and continue with the formula as option one. Option two was to keep breastfeeding and see what happened. As I’m sure you’ll guess, I took option two. Thankfully the mucous and blood didn’t return. Under the guidance of the paediatrician, I was also able to gradually introduce nuts and egg back into my diet in a limited way. I remained off soy, as he had a few reactions to it.
When he was about 9 months old he had a severe reaction of big huge welts all over his body and he screamed inconsolably for about 3 hours. The only thing I could attribute it to was a really small percentage of strawberry in an apple and strawberry puree. The reaction happened at night and I had no antihistamine medication. So I gave him a cool bath and covered him in calamine lotion. We visited the GP the next day and got a referral to RPA allergy unit and a script for polaramine. I tried for weeks to ring RPA but they were impossible to contact so I gave up.
A bit more than a year down the track and my almost two year old is still dairy-free. He dislikes soy and egg, but doesn’t have any obvious reaction to them. He seemed to be ok with some nuts that were accidentally eaten. Though he does have very sensitive skin. He also has bad eczema behind his knees and in the bend of his elbows. I believe this is due to certain foods like strawberries and egg. He has quite horrible poos sometimes but they aren’t mucous or bloody. Who knows if they are just typical toddler poos?? It’s confusing and hard to understand. I would like to go and see the allergy unit at RPA both for myself and him. But life is challenging right now, with having had another baby, who just yesterday had his first speck of blood in his poo (I have been suspicious because it is often mucousy). Will I have to go through the same ordeal with him?? Heaven knows.
I also really dislike people thinking I am being a hypochondriac or exaggerating. Its hard at restaurants when they just don’t get it. But I have discovered many yummy treats, with the help of some allergy friends. Who would’ve thought Oreos, Arnotts “teddy bear” biscuits and lindt 70% dark chocolate were dairy free?? All I can say now is that I hope my child/ren are fortunate enough to outgrow their allergies by school age, like most other dairy and egg allergic kids do.