Going dairy free while breastfeeding can seem challenging, but with a bit of planning it is completely doable. Many nursing mothers choose to eliminate dairy due to a baby’s milk protein allergy, lactose intolerance, or simply as an experiment to see if it helps with reflux or other digestive issues. Whatever your reasons, you can absolutely get the nutrients you need with a dairy-free diet.
Why Go Dairy Free?
There are a few common reasons breastfeeding mothers decide to cut out dairy:
- Baby has a milk protein allergy or sensitivity – Removing dairy from your diet can help identify if dairy proteins in your breastmilk are causing adverse reactions for baby like excessive spit up, blood in stool, rash, gassiness, etc.
- Baby has lactose intolerance – Some babies have difficulty digesting the natural milk sugar lactose. You may see symptoms like excessive gas, frothy green stools, and discomfort.
- Mother has lactose intolerance – If you are lactose intolerant, you may experience bloating, gas, cramping, and diarrhea after consuming dairy products. Going dairy free can relieve these symptoms.
- Wanting to follow an vegan or vegetarian diet – Eliminating dairy allows you to follow a vegan or ovo-vegetarian diet.
- Trying an elimination diet – Removing inflammatory foods like dairy is sometimes recommended to help identify triggers for reflux, colic, and other baby issues.
In most cases, dairy elimination is temporary during breastfeeding. But if your baby has a milk protein allergy, you may need to avoid dairy longer term. Be sure to discuss your plans with your pediatrician so you can ensure you are getting proper nutrition while breastfeeding.
Is Dairy Necessary While Breastfeeding?
Dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt are commonly considered an important part of a healthy diet. But contrary to popular belief, dairy is not a requirement during breastfeeding or any stage of life. You can get the key nutrients found in dairy from plant-based sources:
- Protein – Beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, whole grains
- Calcium – Leafy greens, broccoli, calcium-set tofu, almonds
- Vitamin D – Fortified non-dairy milk, egg yolks, sunlight
- Vitamin B12 – Nutritional yeast, supplements
- Probiotics – Fermented foods like kimchi, sauerkraut, non-dairy yogurt
As long as you eat a well-balanced dairy-free diet, you can get all the nutrients you need for a healthy milk supply. Focus on incorporating alternative sources of calcium, protein, and vitamin D.
Foods to Avoid
When eliminating dairy, be vigilant about reading ingredient labels. Milk proteins and derivatives can sneak into foods you wouldn’t necessarily think of as dairy. Watch out for:
- Ice cream
- Milk solids
- Non-dairy creamer (often contains milk proteins)
Also avoid foods that may contain hidden dairy like:
- Baked goods
- Salad dressings
- Protein bars
Steps for Going Dairy Free
Here are some tips to make the transition to dairy free smooth sailing:
- Read labels carefully. Scan ingredients for any form of milk or milk derivatives. Look for vegan symbols or “dairy-free” to identify safe options.
- Find substitutes. Swap dairy milk for unsweetened almond, soy, oat or coconut milk. Use avocado, tahini, nut butters, bananas, Greek yogurt or oil-based dressings in place of butter. Try dairy-free cheeses, yogurts and ice creams made from nuts or coconut. Look for vegan margarines like Earth Balance.
- Supplement if needed. Consider a calcium + vitamin D supplement if not getting enough from diet. Look for an algae-based omega-3 DHA supplement to replace fish oils. Add nutritional yeast for vitamin B12.
- Enjoy calcium-rich foods. Eat plenty of dark leafy greens, tofu, beans, nuts and seeds which provide highly absorbable calcium.
- Get creative. Experiment with dairy-free recipes for breakfast smoothies, protein balls, chia pudding, oatmeal, and more. Search online or use plant-based cookbooks.
- Try new milk alternatives. Each dairy-free milk has a unique taste and nutrition profile. Give a few options a try to find your favorites – it may take some adjusting!
Best Foods to Eat
You can get all the protein, calcium and other nutrients you need from these delicious dairy-free foods:
- Tofu and tempeh – Excellent plant-based protein plus calcium
- Leafy greens – Kale, collards, broccoli, spinach, full of calcium
- Almond butter – Healthy fats and calcium
- Chia seeds and flaxseeds – Fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium
- Beans and lentils – Plant-based protein and iron
- Nuts and seeds – Protein, healthy fats, vitamin E
- Soy/almond/oat milk – Fortified with calcium and vitamin D
- Nutritional yeast – Vitamin B12, umami flavor
- Avocado – Healthy fats, potassium, fiber
- Hummus – Protein and calcium from chickpeas
Focus on getting a wide variety of these nutrient-dense foods in your diet for the best dairy-free breastfeeding meal plan.
Meal Ideas and Recipes
Eating dairy-free is easy with simple substitutions and plant-based recipes. Try these ideas:
- Smoothie with almond milk, banana, nut butter, spinach/kale
- Oatmeal made with almond milk, walnuts, chia seeds, fruit
- Tofu veggie scramble with sweet potato hash
- Whole grain toast with mashed avocado and sunflower seeds
- Quinoa bowls with sauteed veggies, beans, hemp seeds
- Massaged kale salad with roasted chickpeas, avocado, tahini dressing
- Lentil soup with whole grain bread
- Veggie and hummus wrap with side salad
- Veggie stir fry over brown rice with tofu or tempeh
- Beans and rice burrito bowls with guacamole
- Zucchini noodles with sunflower seed pesto sauce
- Chickpea curry with brown basmati rice
- Sliced apple with almond or sunflower seed butter
- Kale chips
- Trail mix with nuts and seeds
- Hummus with celery and carrots
- Smoothies or dairy-free yogurt
Get creative in the kitchen with these dairy-free recipes:
- 1 Bowl Vegan Chocolate Cake
- Vegan Chocolate Milkshake
- Buffalo Tempeh Tacos
- Vegan Blueberry Oatmeal Pancakes
- Black Bean Sweet Potato Enchiladas
Tips for Maintaining Milk Supply
To keep your milk supply up after cutting out dairy, be sure to:
- Drink plenty of fluids – aim for 8-12 cups of water, coconut water, or unsweetened almond milk daily
- Continue breastfeeding or pumping on demand to signal to your body to keep producing
- Eat enough calories – shoot for at least 500 extra per day while nursing
- Include protein with each meal/snack – nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, tofu
- Incorporate omega-3s – walnuts, chia, flax, DHA supplement
- Get enough vitamin B12 – nutritional yeast, supplement
- Consider lactation cookies or teas to support supply
- Use fenugreek supplements short term if supply seems low
Monitor your baby’s output – adequate weight gain and dirty diapers mean your supply is fine. The first week or two, you may notice a dip as your body adjusts but it should rebound with proper self-care.
If you removed dairy due to a suspected intolerance in baby, at some point you can try reintroducing to see if it was the culprit. Here are some tips:
- Wait at least 2-4 weeks dairy-free before reintroducing
- Try one new dairy food at a time
- Have lactase enzyme supplements on hand in case baby is lactose intolerant
- Go slowly – start with small amounts of yogurt, cheese or milk
- If symptoms recur, remove and wait a few more weeks before trying again
- If no symptoms, continue adding dairy back slowly while monitoring for changes
Some babies do fine with small amounts of yogurt or hard cheeses but react to milk. If your baby’s sensitivities seem to be improving, discuss options with your doctor.
Will my milk dry up if I stop eating dairy?
No, cutting out dairy will not suddenly dry up your milk supply. You may notice a temporary dip in production as your body adjusts, but it should rebound within 1-2 weeks. Focus on staying hydrated, nursing on demand, and getting enough calories and key nutrients from other foods.
How long should I be dairy free while breastfeeding?
If eliminating dairy due to a food sensitivity in baby, dairy should be avoided for at least 2-4 weeks to allow it to fully clear from your breastmilk. For mild intolerances, you may be able to slowly reintroduce dairy after a month or two. For severe allergies, you may need to remain strictly dairy-free for the duration of breastfeeding.
Will my breastfed baby be lacking nutrition if I don’t eat dairy?
As long as you maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet with sufficient calories, protein, fruits/veggies, your breastmilk will contain all the nutrients your baby needs – even without dairy. Focus on plant-based proteins, leafy greens, nuts, seeds, beans, omega-3s and supplements if needed.
Is it safe to drink non-dairy milks when breastfeeding?
Yes, unsweetened varieties like almond, coconut, oat and soy milk are perfectly safe options while nursing! Choose milks fortified with calcium and vitamin D when possible. Limit sweetened milks which are higher in sugar.
What about cheese – can I have just a little?
If your baby has a severe milk protein allergy, all dairy including cheese needs to be avoided completely. For mild sensitivities, some babies do fine with small amounts of hard, aged cheeses which have less milk protein. But proceed cautiously and monitor for reactions.
Removing dairy from your diet when breastfeeding is completely possible with the right substitutions. Focus on alternative plant-based sources of calcium, protein and vitamins D and B12. Drink plenty of fluids, nursing on demand, and eating enough calories can help maintain your milk supply. Monitor your baby closely when reintroducing dairy to ensure tolerance. With a balanced dairy-free diet, you can provide all the nutrients your baby needs to thrive.