Note from Naomi: Today's post is a guest post from the lovely Lauren from Dilan and Me. This lovely mummy blogger has written about her experience breastfeeding her son who has a dairy and soya allergy. You can visit and read her awesome blog here.
Dilan was always a 'sickly' baby. It got to the point that we would leave actual puddles of sick wherever we went. We would go through endless muslins every day, and my washing pile was always huge due to multiple outfit changes for us both.
Everywhere I turned I was told, "babies are sick" and it was 'normal'.
At around 3 months old, his weight gain slowed - and he completely fell off the chart, to below the 2nd percentile. I was fobbed off constantly, but I fought hard for us to be seen. Eventually - when he was 6 months old - we were given the diagnosis of Cow's Milk Protein Allergy (CMPA). Luckily my best friend's little boy has the same allergy so I had a little knowledge on the subject.
Within a few days of cutting out dairy and soya, Dilan was a completely different baby. That confirmed the diagnosis for us. I reintroduced soya for a day, and he spent a week throwing up so we knew soya was also definitely a problem!
When you're told you have to give up dairy, you immediately assume you'll never be able to eat chocolate or cheese! I can't lie - you'll probably cry over it. Yes, dairy milk and mature cheddar are off the table; but there are actually loads of great alternatives out there (for chocolate any way... dairy free cheese takes some getting used to...)
What I think I was less prepared for was just how many places milk can hide. Beyond the obvious, I've found it in some of most bizarre places you can imagine - ice lollies; wine; ham; pineapple juice; even pickled onions! It's also in some medications, and also teething granules. You have to adjust really quickly to reading the label of every single thing you put in your (or your little one's) mouth. It can be very overwhelming.
Up to around 60% of babies who have CMPA, will also react to soya, because the proteins are so similar. Unfortunately - for the same reason - soya is often used to replace dairy in 'free from' products. It's also a preservative, so it's everywhere and I actually found it even harder to avoid than dairy! Nearly all 'free from' chocolate contains soya; as well as most bread; loads of biscuits; and even sweets and chewing gum.
After two years I can honestly say I didn't miss a thing, because there are so many great alternatives and other treats out there.
I chose not to move to formula mostly because I'm incredibly stubborn!
I struggled so much in the beginning to establish feeding - I expressed and cup fed with a tiny medicine cup for two weeks while we fought to establish my supply. There was absolutely no way I was giving in after surviving that! I was very well informed luckily; meaning I understood all the benefits of breastfeeding - and the risks of introducing a dairy free formula.
I was empowered by the knowledge that even if he was reacting to my breast milk, it was still helping to heal his gut as well as offering all the other wonderful benefits it was designed to give.
It was particularly hard as he fell down the percentiles; and he was officially diagnosed as 'failure to thrive'. I was repeatedly offered formula from health care professionals but I declined their offers. I totally respect a mother's right to feed her child whichever way she chooses. I chose to breastfeed; and I would've defended that choice as many times as I needed to because it was absolutely the right thing to do for us.
Luckily I had an amazing support network who kept me strong - and once we were allergen free Dilan's weight shot back up. He now sits comfortably around the 60th percentile and is a normal almost-three year old in every way. He self weaned at 25 months completely of his own accord; and I feel really proud that he was able to do that in his own time.
When I first started on this journey there were several Facebook groups that were absolute lifelines to me. It was awesome to meet other mums going through the same things - some at the same point as me, who shared my troubles. It was also great to meet some further on, who could answer my questions and tell me where to buy chocolate.
I picked up lots and lots of information from these wonderful ladies - far more than any health care professional could've provided me with! I've met some incredibly inspiring people along the way too.
At some point, I became one of the mums answering the questions. Eventually, I started my own group, specifically for mums breastfeeding children with CMPA or other food allergies which you can find on Facebook here. We are now at nearly 1500 members, and I can honestly say it's the most supportive network I've ever come across!
We support each other through the lows; because we've all been there and we know it gets better!
We celebrate each other's highs; because we understand first hand how great each small step forward feels.
The group is the best resource a new mum entering the mind field of allergies can have; because we all have our own stories to share share and advice to offer.
Also along the way I began keeping a list of all the little treats and snacks I had found that were dairy and soya free.
I used to keep the list on the notes section on my phone and just copy and paste it when someone asked about what they could eat. I started spotting screenshots of my little list popping up all over Facebook and I realised how helpful what I'd written could be to new mums. When I started my blog the first thing I did was make a page for 'The List' and now - as well as keeping that up to date - I make sure to share recipes suitable for children regardless of any food allergies they may have, as well as other posts about how we cope with a dairy free life.
If I could give a new mum - who's just been given the diagnosis of CMPA for their little one - some advice it would be this...
Yes, this feels totally overwhelming; completely daunting; and your mind is going into overdrive wondering what this means for the rest of your child's life.
Yes it will be a huge learning curve for everyone; you will make mistakes and you will wonder how you're going to cope.
Don't worry though, you will figure it out! You will adjust! You will adapt! You will keep going, because I absolutely promise you - it will get so much easier.