Usually when it is recommended that you eliminate dairy produce from your diet, it is because of a problem that may be caused by a protein in dairy, not because of lactose intolerance. Human milk is full of lactose, and the vast majority of babies and toddlers can digest it. Large protein molecules from cow’s milk can pass into human milk fairly intact and it is these particles that can bother a sensitive baby. If your baby has cow’s milk protein intolerance (CMPI) he might have colic-like symptoms, and be wheezy, vomit, have diarrhea (including bloody diarrhea), constipation, a rash, eczema and/or a blocked nose.
If you suspect your baby is sensitive to the cow’s milk protein in your diet you can remove dairy products and see if it makes a difference. It can take up to 21 days for all traces of cow’s milk protein to leave your system so it’s best to wait for two to three weeks to evaluate the results. Some babies will react well if you remove dairy products such as milk, yoghurt, cheese, cream and ice-cream; others will not show any improvement unless you remove every trace of cow’s milk protein from your diet so you may need to read the labels of all the food you eat and eliminate hidden sources.
Many babies grow out of their sensitivity, so even if your baby is affected you may be able to add dairy back into your diet as your baby gets older. Some mothers wait until their baby has weaned to reintroduce dairy to their diet.
Some babies will show no improvement and it’s possible other elements of your diet are causing a problem. See our post on allergies.
If you do eliminate dairy from your diet there are many other sources of calcium, such as broccoli, collard greens, kale, bok choi, pak choi, ground sesame seeds, blackstrap molasses, almonds, brazil nuts, canned sardines or salmon (with soft bones).
Some types of calcium supplement are better absorbed and utilized by your body than other types. If you want to take one you can ask your healthcare professional which types of calcium supplement you might take.
Your body will take what it needs from your nutritional stores to make the perfect milk for your baby. Your body might go short on calcium, but your breastmilk won’t! There is also research showing that while a breastfeeding mother will have reduced bone density while she is breastfeeding, she piles on bone density after her baby weans and is actually at reduced risk for osteoporosis compared to a woman who has never breastfed a baby.
When considering if your baby may be sensitive to something you have eaten it is worth checking if another carer has given your baby anything at all to eat besides your milk.
Smoking cigarettes and drinking caffeinated or alcoholic beverages can sometimes lead to a fussy baby.
Even if your baby is sensitive to something in your milk, it is still the perfect milk for your baby. Artificial baby milks are made from cow’s milk. Around half of babies who are sensitive to dairy are also sensitive to soya, and many also react to goat’s and sheep’s milk.
Published January 2018, minor edits September 2023.