Meal Plan & Tips to Eat Dairy-Free while Breastfeeding
What should I know about being dairy-free while breastfeeding?
Learn the difference between lactose intolerance and a cow’s milk protein allergy
Understand what nutrients dairy provides, and how to get them from other sources
Get meal and snack ideas for dairy-free eating
Going dairy-free is often a choice not easily made. Some people who are breastfeeding may avoid dairy if they are lactose intolerant or have a milk protein allergy. Others who are breastfeeding may avoid dairy if their baby has been diagnosed with a cow’s milk protein allergy. Additionally, dairy may sometimes be avoided as a personal preference.
Going dairy-free may seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to mean losing out on vital nutrients.
What is Lactose Intolerance?
Lactose is the natural sugar (carbohydrate) found in all mammalian milk, including breastmilk.1 Lactase is the enzyme that helps break down lactose during digestion. This enzyme is made in abundance during infancy so that all mammals, including human babies, can digest their mother’s milk well.
For this reason, lactose intolerance is very rare among babies and children under the age of 5 years.2
After the toddler years, lactase enzyme production slowly begins to reduce for some people, causing lactose intolerance.2
In the rare case that a baby may have lactose intolerance, symptoms may include:
Symptoms usually show up between 30 minutes and 2 hours after having dairy.14
What is a cow’s milk protein allergy?
A cow’s milk protein allergy is when the body’s immune system reacts to the protein in cow’s milk, which causes an allergic reaction.3 This allergy is one of the most common among children and affects 1 to 3% of young children around the world.4 The good news is that most kids will grow out of this allergy as they get a bit older.4,5
You can still breastfeed a baby who has a cow’s milk protein allergy as long as you avoid all foods that have cow’s milk protein in them (which includes all dairy ingredients).
Symptoms of a cow’s milk protein allergy
Reactions usually happen within 1 to 2 hours after being exposed to cow’s milk protein, whether from breastmilk or from eating it in a meal.10 Reactions may range from mild to life-threatening.
In babies, symptoms of a milk protein allergy may include:
Gassiness, bloating, discomfort
Blood or mucous in the stool
Always chat with your or your baby’s health care provider if you are concerned about a milk protein allergy or lactose intolerance.
Getting the right nutrition while eliminating dairy
If you must take dairy out of your diet, there are many foods that can supply the important nutrients that dairy provides, such as calcium, and when fortified, vitamin D.7
Calcium: Non-dairy food sources rich in calcium include fortified plant-based milk alternatives and cereals, leafy green vegetables, broccoli, chia seeds, and soy and pinto beans.8
Vitamin D: While there are not as many foods abundant in vitamin D, sources of this nutrient include oily fish (salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel) as well as fortified cereals and plant-based milk alternatives.9 Egg yolks from hens fed vitamin D-enriched feed is also a source.
If fortified dairy products were your primary source of vitamin D, know that dairy alternatives, such as plant-based milk alternatives, are often fortified with vitamin D as well. Be sure to check the label to see if the product you are choosing is fortified with this nutrient.
What foods contain dairy?
Being dairy-free means eliminating all obvious sources of dairy like milk, yogurt, and cheese; however, dairy is also hidden in many foods that aren’t so obvious. Depending on the severity of your or your baby’s allergy, you may also have to avoid foods whose labels read, “contains milk or milk ingredients.”
For more information on ingredients that indicate dairy is in a product, read more here: Does My Baby or Toddler have a Milk Allergy or Lactose Intolerance?
By cooking more at home and eating fewer processed food you can lessen the risk for exposure and cross contact with allergens while also improving your family’s overall diet.
Dairy-Free Meal Plan while Breastfeeding
The below meal plan, recipe, and snack ideas will help ensure that you are getting an adequate amount of the nutrients you need while being dairy-free. Be sure to check all labels for both obvious and hidden sources of dairy.
Chat with your doctor to see if supplementation is needed should you have to take dairy out of your diet.
Option 1: Bran cereal with almondmilk and blueberries
Option 2: Whole grain toast with nut butter and sliced bananas
Option 3: Scrambled eggs with spinach and tomato on whole grain toast
Option 4: Oatmeal with sliced bananas and chia seeds
Option 5: Breakfast burrito: eggs, pinto beans, and salsa in a whole grain tortilla
Option 1: Spinach and arugula salad with veggies, grilled chicken, hard-boiled egg, and walnuts
Option 2: Canned salmon with quinoa/farro tossed with chopped carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes and onions, drizzled with olive oil and lemon juice
Option 3: Whole grain wrap stuffed with chunk light tuna*, veggies and arugula or spinach
Option 4: Spinach omelet topped with sliced avocados and salsa, whole grain toast and fruit salad side.
Option 5: Whole grain toast with turkey, sliced avocado and arugula side salad topped with white beans and a lemon juice and olive oil drizzle
Option 1: Pinto beans and brown rice topped with chopped chicken, sautéed spinach, salsa and guacamole
Option 2: Whole grain pasta with garlic- sautéed spinach, white beans and olive oil
Option 3: Canned salmon made into burgers, cooked and served on a whole grain bun with steamed broccoli
Option 4: Chicken or pork loin with roasted sweet potato and steamed broccoli
Option 5: Beef or chicken stir fry with broccoli using sesame oil, soy sauce and ginger served with brown rice
Option 1: Hummus with sliced veggies
Option 2: Fortified dairy-free yogurt alternative and fresh fruit
Option 3: Smoothie made with fortified almondmilk and fresh fruit
Option 4: Nut butter and apple slices
Option 5: Nuts and dried fruit
* Pregnant women are advised to eat between 8 and 12 ounces of lower mercury fish per week15
We know parenting often means sleepless nights, stressful days, and countless questions and confusion, and we want to support you in your feeding journey and beyond.
Our Happy Baby Experts are a team of lactation consultants and registered dietitians certified in infant and maternal nutrition – and they’re all moms, too, which means they’ve been there and seen that. They’re here to help on our free, live chat platform Monday - Friday 8am-6pm (ET). Chat Now!
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For more on this topic, check out the following articles and recipes:
Our meal plans offer recipe and meal suggestions. They are not designed to replace your doctor’s recommendations, nor do they take into account special nutritional needs, including allergies and intolerances, other than cow’s milk protein allergy and lactose intolerance. The meal plans suggest serving sizes that may or may not be appropriate for you. Please consult your doctor to determine what is best for you and your child.