How To Do A Dairy Free Diet For Breastfeeding Moms

This is my personal experience with doing a dairy free diet for breastfeeding moms. I breastfed a child with a Cow’s Milk Protein Sensitivity. I am not a doctor or nutritionist. Everything in this article is from my personal research and experience. Make sure to consult with your healthcare provider and pediatrician before making any dietary changes.

Hey mama. 

I’m guessing if you’ve made it here, you’re going to try a dairy-free breastfeeding diet for your little one to see if that helps with their digestive problems like gas, spitting up, reflux, or colic-like symptoms.  These are common symptoms of food allergies in babies.

I’ve been there.  I was a breastfeeding mom with a baby who had a dairy intolerance.

My son was also diagnosed with reflux when he was around 4 months old. And, although he was never officially diagnosed with a food allergy, I saw a huge improvement in his discomfort and demeanor after going dairy-free while breastfeeding.  

As someone whose diet had huge amounts of dairy in it (cheese and ice cream are some of my favorite foods🙃), I wanted to write this how-to guide to make the transition as easy as possible for other moms who need to give up dairy.  

In this guide, you will find the best tips and tricks for starting a dairy-free diet, how to tell if it is making a difference, dairy-free alternatives, surprisingly delicious dairy-free foods, and how to re-introduce dairy in your diet.

Need to go dairy free while breastfeeding? Mother holding her baby. A diet for babies with dairy sensitivity.
Dairy Free Diet For Breastfeeding Moms

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How To Tell If Your Baby Has A Cow’s Milk Protein Allergy

If your baby is experiencing severe symptoms, seek medical treatment immediately.  

Does this sound familiar?

Your baby is spitting up excessively, has really painful gas, or is colicky.  

The internet says this could be a Milk Protein Allergy, so you start to investigate.  

You think this could be what is wrong based on your baby’s symptoms and you want to know for sure… But no one seems to be able to tell you what you want to know!

Unfortunately, I Googled this question many times in the early months of breastfeeding my son, and the internet could never give me a clear-cut answer as to whether or not he had a Milk Protein Allergy.

Just as unfortunate, I cannot give you a clear-cut answer either.

Cow’s milk protein is one of the leading allergens for new babies and can range from a sensitivity (usually lots of spitting up and gas) to an actual allergy that can have a more serious allergic reaction like diarrhea, vomiting, blood in the stool, and even an anaphylactic reaction that could be fatal.

Although there are lab tests that doctors can do, they usually just have the parents eliminate dairy from the diet to see if the baby’s symptoms improve. If they do, it is presumed that the Cow’s Milk Protein Sensitivity or Cow’s Milk Protein Allergy (or Cow’s Milk Protein Intolerance) was the culprit.

This is what happened with my son. His symptoms weren’t severe, so I presume it was more of a sensitivity than an allergy.

All of this to say, you aren’t going to find the answer as to whether or not a Milk Protein Allergy is what your baby has on the internet.  

And, as someone who needs immediate answers, I know how frustrating that can be 😡.  

The best thing you can do is to get an appointment with your pediatrician ASAP to discuss the symptoms that your baby is having.  

If you suspect Milk Protein Allergy could be the cause, you should go dairy-free until your appointment.  

Understanding Your Newborn

When your baby cries, it’s pretty obvious something is upsetting them. BUT, understanding what the problem is can be really challenging as a new mom!

How do you know if your baby wants to breastfeed more? Or if they are too full and need to burp?  

What about whether they need to burp, or if they need to pass gas?

These questions are difficult for new parents to answer, but knowing why your baby is crying can help you act quickly to relieve their pain or discomfort.

Understanding your newborn can also help you figure out when they are in discomfort and try to see if there are any patterns to when the discomfort occurs.

The Dunstan Baby Language changed the whole game for me when my son was a few weeks old.  

I felt so defeated because I knew he was crying for a reason, but I couldn’t figure out what it was.  

I would try rocking, feeding, burping, bicycle legs, EVERYTHING I could think of.  

Finally, I came across the Dunstan Baby Language, which tells you exactly why your baby is crying based on the sound of the cry.  

Pretty soon I understood when my baby had gas and needed to toot when he had gas and needed to burp, when he was hungry, and when he was uncomfortable.  

I saw a pattern pretty quickly that my baby would be happy, get hungry, breastfeed, get gassy, and then get fussy.  

I eventually was able to link breastfeeding to his discomfort and started looking for solutions right away. 

One at-home solution was to give up dairy (lots more on that later), and another was a little product called the Windii.

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It’s basically a tube that is inserted in the baby’s bum to allow trapped gas out.  

Ok. It sounds gross.

And it is.  

But it really worked for my son. The Windii would instantly let out trapped gas and my son would be comfortable again.

Pro Tip: I put a pee pad (like the ones you use for dogs) under my son while using this. Just trust me.

Why I Switched To A Dairy Free Breastfeeding Diet

I went to the pediatrician with the knowledge that my breastfed baby was overly gassy, spit up a lot, and got fussy within 20 minutes of eating (thank you Dunstan Baby Language).

My pediatrician and I suspected a Milk Protein Allergy or Sensitivity could be the cause of my son’s painful gas. We decided that I would go dairy-free for 30 days to see what would happen.  

Even before I met with the pediatrician, I decided I was going to go dairy-free. It didn’t seem like there was any downside (other than obviously giving up pizza).  

Dairy can be in your system and in your breast milk for up to 3 weeks after you stop eating it. So don’t be discouraged if you don’t see results right away.

Stick with it for the full 30 days and watch for improvements.

If you’re worried about switching to a dairy free diet (because you love it as much as I do 🧀), try to think of this as a temporary change.

Know that most babies outgrow their sensitivity or allergy completely by age 2.  

And, once your baby weans from breastfeeding, you can start eating dairy again!

You can do this mama! The end is already almost in sight.  

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Dairy, Dairy Everywhere!

Switching to a dairy free diet for breastfeeding moms isn’t as simple as it sounds.  

You would think you just have to give up obvious dairy products like milk and cheese, but you would be wrong!

There is dairy hiding in very unsuspecting places, and if your little one is allergic, you need to know where these places are. Even the smallest amount of dairy can lead to days of painful reactions for your baby.  

Once you start checking labels on food in the grocery store, you will see exactly what I’m talking about.  

There is dairy in EVERYTHING… Even things like dry cereal, chips, bread, and your favorite fast-food items.  

You need to start checking the food labels on EVERYTHING that you are eating in order to be successful in switching to a dairy free diet.  

Pro Tip: You will find the greatest selection of dairy free milks, cheeses, yogurts, and ice cream (of course!) at grocery stores that carry a large vegan selection like Trader Joe and Whole Foods.

How To Know If There Is Dairy On A Food Label

Back in the day, you needed to know all of the sneaky ways dairy ingredients were listed on labels (like casein, diacetyl, or lactalbumin), but luckily in the USA foods that contain dairy must clearly have “Contains Milk,” on their label.

Usually this is at the very bottom of the label.  This at least makes grocery shopping a little easier.

How to tell if there is dairy on a nutrition label
How To Tell If There Is Dairy On A Nutrition Label

Trust me when I say that more labels have this than do not… Including a bag of sweet potato fries from the freezer section that I remember being really upset about!

You might also see “May Contain Milk” or “Was Processed In A Facility With Milk.”  

Depending on your child’s level of sensitivity (and of course the severity of their reaction) I would stay away from these as well.  

Eating Out And Going Dairy Free

Many national food chains and restaurants post their nutrition and allergen guides online.

You local deli probably does not.  

Finding a handful of restaurants with a few dairy-free options will be a lifesaver for you as a new breastfeeding mother.

There are going to be lots of times where you can’t cook or don’t have the energy to… So spend a few minutes investigating your favorite restaurant options to see which ones are dairy-free, and then you don’t have to worry about the overwhelm of checking nutritional charts when you need a quick bite to eat.

I found this website super helpful to look up quick nutrition from different food chains.

Bookmark it. You’re going to need it again.  

If your baby has a true allergy, is super sensitive, has a severe reaction, or you really just don’t want to take the chance, you should also ask a manager at the restaurant where you are ordering exactly how the item is prepared and what it may come in contact with. EVEN IF THEY CLAIM IT IS DAIRY FREE ON THEIR NUTRITIONAL INFORMATION.

For example, a restaurant might prepare several items on a flat-top cooking surface without cleaning it. There could be dairy cross-contamination.

And don’t forget to look up things, even if you’re positive they are dairy free. Like if you order fries at McDonald’s, they are fried in the same frier as their BUTTERMILK CHICKEN! That means that your fries could now have dairy on them.  

Or something like a steak at a steakhouse… But it is likely seared in butter, even if you don’t see butter on it when it gets to you.  

A life-saving tip: Chil-Fil-A uses separate friers for their fries, so they are 100% dairy free. :Insert choirs of angels singing here:

When in doubt, or if you can’t get a clear-cut answer from your restaurant, avoid eating there while you are dairy-free.

Tips For Cooking Dairy Free For Breastfeeding Moms

If going dairy-free was a life choice that you were going to stick with forever, there are lots of cook books and blogs with amazing dairy free recipes to try.

The reality is, you have an infant at home, and most meals are going to look like a bowl of cereal or slice of toast for a little while.

And by the time you get the hang of early motherhood, your baby will have likely outgrown their allergy or weaned from breastfeeding.

This means cooking for your dairy-free breastfeeding diet is more about quick wins and easy substitutes than crafting chef-inspired meals at the dinner table.

Here are my recommendations:

  • Find a good dairy free butter and dairy free milk.

    Dairy free butter or margarine can be substituted at at 1:1 ratio. Same for dairy free milk.

    This means, if the recipe calls for 1 cup of butter and 2 cups of milk, you will substitute with 1 cup of dairy free butter and 2 cups of dairy free milk.  
  • Know that the texture or consistency might be a little different than your original recipe, especially with the milk if you are used to using whole milk, but the dish or baked cooks should still turn out!
  • Once you find the dairy free butter and milk that you like, just stick with it. The more you use them, the more predictable it becomes for how they will affect your recipe.

Pro Tip: If your recipe calls for a heavy cream or whipping cream, coconut cream is dairy free and has a similar texture. Although it might alter the taste a little bit .

Dairy Substitutes For A Dairy Free Diet For Breastfeeding Moms

Let’s cut right to the chase: moms need adequate substitutes for chocolate, butter, and icecream.

I’ll give you these substitutes, plus a few others that I found helpful along the way.  

Dairy free butter substitute:

The best tasting that I found was Country Crock Plant Butter With Almond Oil. This stuff is so delicious, I continue to use it over regular butter even a year after stopping my dairy free diet.

Most margarines or “butter spreads” are also dairy free. I find they have an overly synthetic taste and lack the creaminess of butter… Where the Country Crock Plant Butter has an authentic taste and comparable texture to butter.

Dairy free icecream substitute:

There are actually a lot of dairy free icecreams on the market… But not all are created equal.  

I found that Ben and Jerry’s had a better taste and better consistency overall than SO Delicious Icecream.  

Regardless of which dairy free icecream you choose, keep in mind that almond milk, soy milk and cashew milk are going to have the least aftertaste, and coconut milk and sunflower milk are going to have the most aftertaste.  

My overall top picks for dairy free icecream are: Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, and Ben and Jerry’s Fudge Brownie.

Dairy free chocolate substitute:

When it comes to chocolate, there are very few options out there mama.

You would think only “milk chocolate” has dairy in it, but all of the dark chocolate that I found at the grocery store did too.

If you like white chocolate, the good news is that most white chocolate is dairy free (just make sure to check the label).  

Even Hershey’s Cookies and Cream bars are dairy free, despite “cream” in the name.  

If you are craving milk chocolate, there are two companies that have dairy free milk chocolate available in-stores: Enjoy Life and Nestle Tollhouse Allergen Free. I have only had luck finding these brands in chocolate chip form in-store… But they do have other products like dairy free chocolate bars and cookies online.

I have found both of these brands at major retailers like Target, Walmart, and large grocery chains. It’s nice to know there is something you can buy in the store.  

Dairy free cheese substitute:

Don’t do it mama.

Other moms warned me about dairy free cheese 🤢, but I was really craving pizza, so I bought some…

It tasted horrible.

No flavor, no melt, no ooey-gooiness.

I even tried to doctor up my pizza a bit with lots of delicious toppings, but everything was ruined by the waxy taste and texture of the dairy free cheese.  

Maybe if you were going vegan or dairy-free as a permanent lifestyle choice, a dairy free cheese might become appealing (you know, after not eating real cheese for so long), but for 6-12 months, I’d just pass.  

Dairy Free Milk And Yogurt:

Luckily there are lots of milk substitutes and yogurt out there like nut milk (almond, cashew, etc.), oat milk, soy milk, and coconut milk. You can usually find an assortment of yogurts made from these same milks.  

Overall I think the nut and soy milks have the least taste; whereas coconut has a very prominent taste.  

I also don’t love coconut… So if you are a big coconut fan, it might be more appealing to you!

Dairy Free Bread:

Most shelf-stable breads are “enriched” or “fortified” meaning they have dairy in them. There are a few exceptions, but even a lot of the exceptions are processed in facilities that contain milk… Which might be too risky depending on your situation.  

Most store-baked bread (the kind that you buy in the bakery section) does not contain milk. That is, for the white bread products. A lot of the specialty bread like croissants, brioche, and even some bread with whole grains do contain dairy.  

Pro Tip: If there is a regional bread company that has store distribution near you, they might be dairy free! I stumbled across a local bread in my regular bread aisle (not in the bakery), and they were dairy free. It’s worth checking the labels for local companies near you. Although, it can be pretty discouraging to find “Contains Milk” over and over and over again… So if all else fails, head to the bakery.

Dairy Free Junk Food:

When you get to the snack aisle, just about everything has dairy in it!  

Here were a few of my favorite dairy-free indulgences:

  • Sweet Chili Doritos
  • Some flavors of Lay’s chips
  • PopTarts (all of the flavors that I looked at anyway)
  • Oreo Cookies: listen:

    Oreos might have saved the whole dairy free journey for me. They satisfy the chocolate craving, the creamy craving, the sweet craving, and the crunchy craving all at once. What’s more: they have literally dozens of different flavors like Carrot Cake, Birthday Cake, Red Velvet and Chocolate Cream to satisfy most of your sweet tooth cravings!
  • Cinnamon Toast Crunch
  • Captain Crunch

Re-Introducing Dairy In Your Diet

Do not re-introduce dairy without coming up with a plan with your pediatrician.

Your pediatrician might want to re-introduce dairy after 6-12 months, or they might want to wait longer depending on the severity of the allergy.  

Make a plan with your pediatrician for exactly when and how much dairy you are going to reintroduce in your diet at a time.

You likely shouldn’t eat 2 pints of icecream and a large pizza all in one sitting at the very beginning.  

You might also find that the dairy upsets your stomach when you reintroduce it… Dairy is tough to digest, even for adults who don’t have a dairy or lactose allergy.  

So take it easy on yourself too, as tempting as eating all of the cheese is going to be! 

At the end of the day, changing your own diet is a big undertaking for a mom of breastfed babies. If you get to the end of your 30 or 60-day dairy elimination diet, and it seems like your baby does have food intolerances, you also have the option of switching to a hypoallergenic baby formula that is dairy-free if going dairy-free for an extended period of time isn’t something you want to do. Your baby’s health care provider can recommend which formulas to start with. At the end of the day, your baby’s nutritional needs will be met one way or another.

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Jacqui

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Hi, I'm Jacqui, founder of Mommy Maker Teacher and mom of two toddlers. With a degree in education, 12+ years of experience as a K-12 teacher and curriculum developer, and courses in childhood psychology and language acquisition, I share research-backed parenting tips and advice. I provide helpful content for moms on all stages of motherhood - from trying to conceive and pregnancy to postpartum, breastfeeding, and parenting.