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Precious Penelope’s Journey with Infant Food Allergies

Let's hear about Lauren & Penelope's journey...

We got lucky with Penelope who was born in the Spring of 2020, a month into the pandemic. She started sleeping through the night at 11 weeks old. I know, I know, I’m not supposed to tell people that because most mothers at that point are sleep deprived and lucky to shower. She was a very happy and healthy baby for the first three months of her life. Her biggest issue was being gassy and she didn’t like tummy time.

Then she hit 4 months old and everything changed.

I’ll never forget the red spots in her poopy diaper. I remember looking at my husband and saying, “maybe it was the red M&M’s or pizza sauce?”

I didn’t have a clue what we were about to embark on.

After the first “red” spots in her diaper, it didn’t happen again for weeks. Of course, as a first-time mom and during a world pandemic, I searched on Google out of curiosity.

I read about anal fissures or cracked nipples causing the blood in diapers. I realized the possibility it wasn’t the red food I was eating. Then after more searching, I finally found a little, and only a little information on infant food allergies (often called intolerances which only confused me more).

Penelope didn’t seem to check enough boxes for symptoms of infant food allergies or intolerances.

Symptoms can include but are not limited to:

  • Failure to Thrive

  • Colic

  • Abdominal discomfort

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Rash or hives

  • Bloody or mucousy stools

But she did check one box – mucousy stools. She averaged 4-6 poopy diapers a day. Sometimes she was gassy too, but I was told all this was normal. She was gaining weight well and we had nothing to worry about.

When You Can’t Figure Out What’s Wrong With Your Baby – It’s Scary

Penelope started to have blood in her diapers about two weeks after the first red spots that I now know were blood. Our pediatrician recommended an evaluation for anal fissures. We took her in and she did have fissures.

Her pediatrician also recommended I remove dairy from my diet since I was breastfeeding. She mentioned dairy is the most common infant food intolerance or allergy in infants.

I was surprised at the lack of information from Penelope’s pediatrician. I didn’t get any handouts or information on eliminating dairy. I had to figure it out on my own. When I asked her doctor a few questions, she couldn’t give us straight answers.

I was also quickly told if cutting dairy was too hard I could switch to a special formula. It wasn’t until the thought of having to switch to formula did I realize how much I loved breastfeeding. I was determined to continue through her food allergies.

Removing dairy from my diet was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be, my love for cheese is no joke. I mentioned our new struggle in a Facebook mom group and I was given information on other groups with infants experiencing the same thing.

I joined a dairy-free breastfeeding (DFBF) group and was surprised by the information. It didn’t seem to line up with the studies provided. The group mentioned the “detox period” of eliminating food proteins from my diet would take weeks. Then it would take weeks for it to clear the baby's system.

So here I was, having a baby with blood in her diapers and I wasn’t going to see improvement until 6-8 weeks? I couldn’t accept this answer.

How Long It Took For My Baby To Improve When Cutting Foods Out Of My Diet

On day 4 of a dairy-free diet, Penelope had her worst diaper yet. There was more blood and mucous. Her pediatrician recommended an urgent referral to a pediatric GI specialist and for me to cut out soy. I was happy with the referral and thought for sure I’d get more answers from the GI specialist.

Every day felt so long and was filled with so much worry. I waited for her to poop and would inspect it like a scientist. I mentioned cutting soy in the DFBF group and was told by an administrator it was too soon to cut soy. It was a hard and confusing time because I felt the pediatrician really didn’t know and I knew I didn’t have a clue. I heavily removed soy from my diet but I continued to consume it 1-2 times per week.

I was grateful to find and join a Facebook group called Dairy and Soy Free (MSPI) Breastfeeding Support because that’s how I found Dr. Trill. I needed more science-based evidence on food allergies and I was so happy to find someone who cared enough to take action. She created a space for mothers and babies going through this stressful time.

I found the science of how long proteins last in breast milk and was blown away – in a good way!

When we saw the GI specialist in September, I had been dairy-free for 15 days and soy-free for 4 days. She still had anal fissures but was gaining weight at a good rate. They told me they were not concerned because the blood was only “specs and streaks” and mucousy stools can be normal. I was advised to continue a dairy and soy-free diet but it could also be from the fissures.

GI told me I could try eating soy again too since it had only been a few days of cutting it out. They felt it was likely dairy causing the issue. I started to eat soy again regularly and it didn’t last long. I noticed Penelope was a little more gassy and fussy. Then she had a very mucousy diaper. I decided it wasn’t worth the worry and I’d completely take out soy.

I thought cutting dairy was hard – soy was another level. We didn’t realize how much soy is in everyday foods. But it was all worth it to continue breastfeeding through my baby’s food intolerances. After 2-3 days of soy-free, her diapers started to improve.

Penelope went from 4 mucousy, loose poopy diapers with spots of blood a day, to peanut butter consistency poopy diapers every few days after 3 weeks dairy-free and 1-week soy-free.

No one in the world will talk about a good baby poop like breastfeeding moms with infants who have food allergies or intolerances. We live for the poops because we feel they tell us so much about our diets and how the baby is reacting to what we are eating. Read more about diapers here.

In a nutshell, we never really got solid answers. We consider ourselves lucky that cutting dairy and soy was all it took for Penelope’s diapers to improve. So many mothers have such longer journeys and have to eliminate many other foods.

Update: Penelope outgrew her soy allergy at 12 months old. She failed the dairy ladder at 12 months and at 18 months. It was hard but happy to report she passed at 2 years old!

What Piece of Advice Would You Give to Parents Who Just Discovered Their Baby has Infant Food Allergies Or Intolerances?

First, it gets better. In the beginning, you think it’ll be impossible to cut whatever foods you need or find the trigger food causing your baby’s symptoms. Second, it takes time to figure it out and see improvement. You need to give yourself grace and have patience. I would tell anyone going through an infant with food allergies to have a one-on-one consult.

What's Your Motivation to Continue Breastfeeding through Infant Allergies or Intolerances?

My motivation to continue breastfeeding was believing it’s the best choice I can make for Penelope right now. It’s a lot of work for our family but it’s been worth it due to the scientific evidence of the nutritional value of breastmilk. Plus, when you see that first “baseline” poop or your little one improves in any way – it’s all worth it. I miss my cheese, but not as much as I love breastfeeding my daughter.

What Do You Wish People Understood About Infant Food Allergies Or Intolerances?

I wish people understood that yes, “even a little,” can’t happen with an infant with food allergies. A “slip-up” as we moms call it, can cause a reaction. This makes motherhood more challenging, but we are choosing to continue to breastfeed because it’s important to us.


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