Our journey with dairy allergies, began rather sneakily as, unaware of any connection, we struggled to help our infant daughter fight her chronic ear infections.
Our daughter, AB, was ear-infection-free for the first nine months of her life. She breastfed well, loved to eat as she started solids, had a few viruses here and there but was healthy overall and showed no signs of allergies other than the seasonal ones that run in our family. We were thankful to have a healthy baby, of course, and even more thankful that AB did not inherit the reflux her father and brother both struggled with. She also did not get ear infections like her brother did (starting at 3 months), a fact I thought might be caused from her being breastfed (he was not). She pulled at her ears all the time and at her checkups always had a lot of fluid and wax in her ears, but no infections. At about nine months old, AB developed a love of yogurt, particularly yogurt melts and Gerber baby yogurt. Every day she had her yogurt and just devoured it. She was still nursing as well and I had cheese, milk, and the occasional ice cream. Still, I did not at all consider the increase in AB’s dairy intake as a factor when she got her first ear infection at almost-ten months. I had heard about a possible link between dairy allergies and ear infections as well as eczema and reflux (both of which my son had), but did not remember it when AB’s first ear infection was confirmed.
That first ear infection turned into either three ear infections or one very long ear infection – a few days after a complete round of antibiotics, I took an ill AB back to the doctor’s office where they confirmed an ear infection. Yet again, a few weeks later, we were back with another ear infection. After this (third) antibiotic, AB got a reprieve and was ear-infection free again for a couple months, but at every check-up she had fluid in her ears. The fourth time we journeyed to the doctor for an ear infection was shortly after she turned one and started drinking whole milk in addition to nursing. This infection set in motion an identical series of doctor and pharmacy adventures as the first. After the third antibiotic to clear the ears, the doctor referred us to an Ear Nose and Throat Doctor (ENT) for tubes. I was hesitant about getting tubes put in my daughter’s ears and not at all certain this was the route I wanted to go – afterall, who wants to undergo any surgery unless it’s 100% necessary, let alone put their baby under for surgery. So skeptical and nervous, I went to the ENT’s office hoping maybe he would offer an alternative or assure me of the surgery’s necessity.
By the time we saw the ENT, AB’s ears were finally no longer infected but did still have fluid in them. The ENT was patronizingly quick to blow off my questions and concerns, treating me as if I should just schedule the tubes and get it over with and quit bothering him and making me certain I would not have him operating on my daughter. He did, however, give me a glimmer of surgery-alternative-hope when he said that her infections were likely caused by a dairy allergy. This statement intrigued me, and I tried to steer the conversation back to that possibility. Again, he somewhat blew me off, saying that I could try a dairy-elimination diet if I wanted, but treating me as if he assumed I wouldn’t because it would be too inconvenient or too much hassle. I know, from talking to others, that for many people this is the case and, instead of trying to eliminate dairy, they just get tubes. But even if that had been my initial reaction (which it wasn’t), his attitude toward me triggered my stubbornness and I determined to show him I could and would accomplish going dairy-free. The ENT’s nurse was much kinder, gave me a packet of information on dairy-elimination diets, and explained the basics to me. My husband was on-board with the dairy-elimination as well and two days later, AB and I started our new dairy-free diet.
The diet was fairly simple, though it took some adjusting too – no dairy at all, even in baked or cooked foods, for three full months then, if the diet seemed successful (no new ear infections), slowly add back in a little dairy here and there to see what happens. Already a label-reader for nutrition, I began looking for dairy ingredients now as, often, they are not as obvious as one would think. I discovered all sorts of dairy-infused products like CoffeeMate, which states “Non-Dairy” on the label, and beef broth and French Onion soup – staples in my Au Jus. In fact, Au Jus itself is impossible to find dairy-free unless made from scratch. And of course there are baked goods, soups, breads, and other favorites that are all filled with dairy. Daycare found that most sandwich thins are dairy-free and bought AB those for sandwiches there, so I bought them at home. I found that Almond Milk worked best for AB and that I could replace her yogurt with Soy yogurt. I found substitutes for the dairy in most of my favorite recipes and, since my husband doesn’t care for cheese anyway, we began getting pizza with no cheese on it. I checked the websites for our favorite restaurants in advance to know what dairy-free offerings they had and, with the exception of the occasional sneaky-ingredient that we may have missed when eating out, AB and I went dairy-free and ear-infection free. A much smoother transition than any of us thought it would be.
Once three months had passed, I slowly added dairy back to my diet but not AB’s, figuring it would be safer for me to have it first and see how she handled what she was getting through breastmilk, than try to add to her diet. It took two weeks of small amounts of dairy on my part every day and one large Cold Stone Creamery ice cream while on vacation (I just couldn’t resist) and AB went back to the doctor with an ear infection. That was proof enough for me. Back to dairy-free we went. It’s been four months since then and no ear infections despite a couple of colds. Not only that, but I feel better, have more energy, and am losing weight (slowing, but steadily, which is great). I expected, or at least hoped for, the positive impact on AB, but not on me, and couldn’t be happier about it. There are rare occasions when we may have a small amount of dairy because we are eating out or at someone else’s house and are not certain of the ingredients, but we avoid the biggies – dairy milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, butter, and anything we know will contain any of these ingredients, and all our food at home is dairy-free. The holidays may be more difficult to stay dairy-free during, but we plan to do our best (and maybe I’ll avoid those extra holiday pounds because of it). I really can sing praises about being dairy-free. I know that there are nutritionists out there who strongly advise against dairy and, as better as I feel not having it, I can’t help but agree with them.
So, if any of you are struggling with ear infections, eczema, reflux, night-waking, or any other of the myriad of symptoms that a dairy allergy can cause (if you look up the list, it’s amazing), I would definitely recommend trying to go dairy-free. You may just be surprised at how easy it is and how much better it is for you. Of course, it is not a guarantee. Some children have ear infections, reflux, eczema, etc. for other reasons and a doctor should always be consulted, especially when, or in case, dairy-elimination does not work, as it does not always. Be warned though, many doctors poo-poo the dairy allergy link; mine did until AB became infection free than said “maybe the ENT has something there.” So, trust your instincts and get other opinions if need be. But certainly give dairy-elimination some thought.
Dairy photo from www.allergies-tips.com
About the Blogger:
Hi! I’m Shawna, a married mother of two — one boy, one girl, who loves being a mom. My kids throw me for a loop sometimes with their surprises and life is always an adventure with little ones around, but I wouldn’t change it for anything.