Cow’s Milk Protein Intolerance

My son started getting really fussy around five weeks old. He generally did not cry that much up until this time. He also struggled to sleep or stay asleep. I rocked him, held him, nursed him, but these activities only appeased him for so long. One tired and overwhelmed afternoon, I decided to climb onto the exercise ball sitting in the middle of our living room. We got it towards the end of my pregnancy hoping to induce labor. No such luck. I gently started bouncing on the large grey orb while holding my baby. I worked. He would relax for a little while and sometimes even fall asleep. I bounced for hours a day.

About a week later, I went to change my son and was alarmed to see a few green – really green – and a little slimy – streaks in his poop. I immediately googled “six weeks old slimy green poop” and slogged through the results. There were a number of responses about imbalance of fore milk and hind milk. Was I switching breasts too soon and hurting my baby? I tried to keep him on each breast a little longer and waited to see what happened.

Despite my best efforts, the next diaper change was even worse. And it smelled funny. I immediately called our pediatrician to make an appointment. The receptionist who answered asked me why I needed the appointment and I told her about the slimy, smelly, green poop. She said she would have a nurse call me. A few minutes later, a nurse called me back and I again described the slimy, smelly, green poop.

Now, I have been called stubborn here and there. I prefer ‘tenacious’ myself. With that said, I do respect professionals – especially since I am one. I have worked with clients who have vigorously held onto a misconception about the law despite my best efforts to inform them otherwise. It’s frustrating. So, I really tried to give the nurse on the other end of the line the benefit of the doubt when she confidently reassured me that my son was fine and that the green poop was just a reaction to iron. She told me that there was no need for an appointment.

I remember saying “Okay” when she said that I should call back with any other questions. After a brief hesitation, I said “–but Ma’am?” and she answered back in the affirmative. “What iron?” She mentioned the iron supplement that I was likely giving my son. I was not giving him any supplements. She did not seem to know how to react at this point, but held her statement that the slimy, smelly, green poop was not a big deal and just to keep an eye on it. After I lobbed a few more questions at her, she finally suggested that we come in for an appointment that afternoon. I was relieved and immediately agreed. I called my husband who decided to take the afternoon off to join us for the visit.

A stool sample and a few tests later – my pediatrician informed us that my son had CMPI – Cow’s Milk Protein Intolerance. Some of the protein from the dairy products I was consuming passed through my breast milk. CMPI generally causes abdominal pain, diarrhea, and blood in stool among other symptoms in infants. No wonder the poor guy seemed so uncomfortable. The pediatrician instructed me to eliminate all dairy and soy from my diet. According to her, around half of babies who react to cow’s milk will have the same reaction to soy protein. She said I could reintroduce cow’s milk and soy into my diet starting around 10 months and that the vast majority of babies outgrow CMPI by 12 months.

Unfortunately, I had to throw away my slow growing freezer stash of breast milk. Our pediatrician gently informed me that it was “poison” to my son since it contained the offensive protein. In my still postnatal hormonal state, I bawled the whole drive home about my toxic breast milk.

If you asked me at the time, I would have said eliminating cow’s milk would prove more difficult than soy. I can’t tell you the last time I actually drank a glass of milk, and my husband and I cut back on dairy products more and more over the years. I did consume yogurt and some cheese not infrequently. I was thankful for allergen labeling on food packages and surprised to learn that cow’s milk lurks in some really unexpected products.

And then there is soy. It. is. everywhere. Sitting in the pediatrician’s exam room my brain thought about the big ticket items like edamame, soy sauce, and tofu. We like and consume all three, but I could give those up for a year! I had no idea. We were shocked by how consistently food manufacturers use soy in a wide variety of products. I am thankful for the education and am now a smarter consumer because of it.

Hearkening back to my tenacity, I didn’t skip a beat in my complete and immediate abolition of cow’s milk and soy from my diet. When I commit to something, I do so with dedication. Also, knowing that a mistake could cause my son discomfort was all the motivation I needed. It took a couple days to notice a small improvement in my son’s behavior and gastrointestinal status. He was markedly better within a week to ten days. Interestingly, it can take upwards of three weeks to eliminate the protein from the body.

The change was challenging at times and required some planning. We enjoy cooking at home, so we adapted by finding dairy free recipes and inspiration. After a few weeks, I actually felt better too. My skin was more clear and my digestion improved. Almost a year has passed and I have no desire to add cow’s milk in any form back into my diet. I did consume some cheese when my son was almost a year old to see if he outgrew the intolerance. When he did not react adversely to the protein through my breast milk, we gave him some yogurt to try directly. He was fine. He also loves tofu and does not have any lingering issues.

I cannot tell you how many people said that they would stop breastfeeding rather than dealing with cutting out cow’s milk and soy from their diet. Or that they would not even know how or where to start. The option of stopping breastfeeding did not even cross my mind. In fact, the pediatrician encouraged me to breastfeed as long as possible in our appointment that day. Other people were not clear what constitutes a cow’s milk product. More than once I was asked if it was hard to give up eating eggs, and on another occasion I was offered fruit and yogurt (made from cow’s milk) as a dairy free snack.

In hindsight, the diet change allowed me further develop my relationship with whole foods. I learned a lot about food and diet during the process. My husband and I also created and found some new go-to delicious recipes. I will share some of the recipes that we really enjoy and tips that I learned along the way in future posts. I also would encourage anyone who wants to continue breastfeeding through CMPI by cutting out cow’s milk or cow’s milk and soy to do so. The change is temporary and there are some great resources out there to help you along the way.

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