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When my son turned six months old, we discovered that he had inherited a dairy sensitivity resulting in regular nighttime wakings due to tummy pains, and regular patches of itchy scaly skin.

I was shocked when I learned that breast milk naturally contained casein -a dairy protein which research has shown a quarter of Canadians to be sensitive to. Only a handful of times in the past three years I had eaten dairy, the last time being nine months prior, and yet my son was still affected! Breast milk has been coined liquid gold, full of antibodies, healthy fats, balanced proteins, and I didn’t want him missing out. 

The solution: find a dairy-free infant formula for his last feeding before bed, to minimize the nighttime tummy pains and help him (and the rest of the family) sleep.

The problem: finding this elusive formula was more difficult than expected. Most dairy-free formulas are lactose-free but not casein-free.

My son didn’t have a lactose-intolerance (a difficulty in breaking down the sugar lactose), but rather an intense immune reaction to a milk protein -completely different. I ultimately decided on a non-GMO soy-based formula, but my son hated the taste and never ate much of it. Despite my reservations I continued to breastfeed until he was one, and diligently supported his immune system with probiotics, omega 3 fatty acids and vitamin D. For myself, avoiding dairy throughout this period was more important than ever, and easy to do when I saw the negative physical consequences at his expense.

A year and a half later and still dairy-free, my little man is meeting every growth and development goal, his skin is clear, and digestion on point. Transitioning to solid food had proven to be a pleasant break from the casein breast milk, and we opted to start with vegetables, and plant- and animal-based proteins. Calcium requirements were easily achieved with regular consumption of tofu, broccoli and spinach.        

Raising a dairy-free baby can be challenging, you need to educate yourself on the available alternatives. By that I mean: formula options, natural health products for immune support, dairy-free recipes, snacks, dinners, etc. I’m still shocked that many family doctors recommend cow’s milk as a healthy transition from infant formula. Given the high incidence of undiagnosed dairy sensitivities in the Canadian population, many babies are likely unnecessarily exposed to significant inflammation via their gastrointestinal tract. As parents, we have a duty to protect our little ones. Having a healthy, happy baby with clear skin, good sleep, and regular digestion...it’s worth it.