Dairy Free Weaning
By Zoe. T. Williams
Starting weaning is an exciting milestone for you and your baby. However, if your child has a cow’s milk allergy, you may be worried about dairy free weaning. You may have questions like: what should a dairy free baby eat, what if they are allergic to something else, and how do I ensure they get enough calcium? Today, Zoe from My Allergy Kitchen gives her top tips for weaning a dairy free baby, based on her own experiences of weaning her daughter with cow’s milk protein allergy.
First foods for dairy free weaning are the same as for any other baby. You should start to offer your baby solid foods at around 6 months of age. Start with simple foods such as vegetables and fruits. You can offer these to your babies as pureed or mashed foods on a spoon, or as finger foods for self-feeding. Once your baby gets used to the idea of eating solid foods, you can gradually increase the variety of foods you offer them.
The World Health Organisation recommends that all babies are breastfed for at least 2 years, so you can continue to breastfeed alongside solid foods. Formula fed babies with cow’s milk allergy will need their prescription milk feeds alongside solids until at least 1 year of age.
For cooking, you can buy a dairy-free milk alternative from the supermarket, or use breastmilk or formula milk if you prefer. Look for milk alternatives that are fortified with calcium – at least 120mg per 100ml. There are many options available including soya, oat, almond and coconut milks. Note: do not use rice milk for children under the age of 4.5 years.
If your baby already has an allergy to cow’s milk, there is an increased risk that they may have an allergy to something else as well. Therefore, you should introduce the most common allergenic foods one at a time, and watch for signs of a reaction. Immediate reactions usually happen within minutes of eating the food, or up to two hours later. Delayed reactions can start after a couple of hours or as long as three days after eating the food.
The most common foods that children are allergic to are cows’ milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, sesame, soya, fish and wheat. You can start to give these foods a few weeks after your baby starts weaning, and once they are used to eating first foods such as vegetables. (Note: never give whole nuts to children under 5 as they are a choking hazard). Once you have introduced these allergenic foods into your baby’s diet, keep giving them the foods regularly to help maintain tolerance. Avoiding these foods can actually increase the chances of your baby developing an allergy.
For practical tips on how to introduce these allergens to babies, check out @tinytotsnutrition on Instagram.
Dairy Free Meals
Making dairy free meals for a baby with milk allergy doesn’t mean learning a whole new way of cooking, and nor does it have to mean cooking separate meals every day. There are many ordinary meals that are naturally dairy free. For example:
· any simple ‘meat and two veg’ meal
· tomato based pasta dishes e.g. spaghetti bolognese
· stir fry
· stews and casseroles
· sausages, burgers and meatballs
· in a roast dinner, the meat, potatoes and vegetables will be dairy free. Just skip the yorkshire pudding and cauliflower cheese.
In addition, many meals can easily be adapted by using dairy substitutes, for example:
· Mashed potato can be made with dairy-free spread and dairy-free milk. This can be used for shepherd’s pie, fishcakes etc.
· Pizza can be made with dairy free cheese
· Curry can be made with tinned coconut milk or coconut yogurt alternative
· You can buy or make dairy free pesto to go with pasta.
· Risotto can be made dairy free, using olive oil instead of butter, and dairy free cheese for topping.
· Ready-made pastry is usually dairy free and can be used to make pies and tarts.
Even recipes that contain a lot of dairy can be adapted. To find dairy free recipes, just search for “dairy free + [recipe name]” – you’ll find plenty to choose from! For example, lasagne, pancakes, muffins and so on. Or check out the recipe archive on My Allergy Kitchen for inspiration.
Reading Food Labels
When buying foods for your dairy-free baby, you must always check the label to ensure there is no milk in the food. Milk is obviously the main ingredient in dairy foods like cheese, yogurt and ice cream. It is also an ingredient in many baked foods like biscuits, cakes and pastries. Surprisingly, milk can also be hidden in foods you wouldn’t expect like cooked meats and stock cubes. So, you must check the label of every product you buy.
Allow yourself extra time for food shopping so that you can check labels carefully. There are some great barcode scanner apps that can help you with this such as FoodMaestro and Libereat. Online shopping may be an easier option – some supermarkets allow you to filter by foods that are dairy free.
Some foods may have additional labels like ‘may contain milk’ – this means it is processed in a factory which also handles milk, so there is a small risk of cross contamination. Most babies with CMPA will be able to eat these foods. Your doctor or dietitian will tell you if you need to avoid them.
Dairy provides calcium, fat, protein, vitamins and other nutrition needed in a child’s diet. Your dairy-free baby will be able to get these nutrients from their milk feeds (either breast or prescription formula), but as they get older they will need to get them from other dietary sources.
The best sources of calcium are foods that are naturally high in calcium. Your body can absorb natural calcium more easily than artificial supplements. These include;
· Wholewheat bread
· Soya (if tolerated)
· Tinned fish with the bones e.g. salmon, sardines.
Calcium-fortified foods are another option:
· Milk alternatives with added calcium (at least 120mg/100ml)
· White bread
· Fortified breakfast cereals
Iodine is another nutrient we usually get from cow’s milk. Alternative sources include seafood such as haddock, cod, scampi and prawns. Eggs, meat and nuts also contain some iodine.
Eating a healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables and plenty of variety will help your baby to absorb the nutrients from the food they are eating.
Zoe T. Williams is passionate about supporting families with food allergies, having two daughters and a husband with multiple food allergies and intolerances. Right now, she is busy in the kitchen concocting new allergy-friendly recipes for her blog, My Allergy Kitchen. Her bestselling book, The Busy Parent’s Guide to Food Allergies is out now on Amazon and aims to take allergy parents from overwhelmed to empowered in easy bite-size chapters.