Dairy-free, TOO??? Oh, dear Lord.
I find myself wondering why our family seems to need weird diets. Is it because of the genetic mix between my husband and me? Our kids seem to have gotten the worst and oddest of our health problems, plus some.
We already knew that baby Audrey, now 11 months old, had pretty serious digestive problems (frothy green poop and abdominal pain) when I, the breastfeeding mother, ate anything dairy. So, for the last almost-year, I have had no dairy at all, except for the daily dose of half-and-half in my coffee, and the very occasional Ben & Jerry’s Karamel Sutra. Well, this is the time in a baby’s life when the mom starts expanding what the baby eats. So, starting about 3 weeks ago, I started adding a spoonful of plain yogurt to her breakfast (which is typically a fruit puree mixed with rice cereal). She liked it fine, and didn’t seem to be experiencing any digestive difficulties. However, she broke out in body-wide eczema, with which she has never before had a problem. Feeding her breakfast last Monday, a week and a half ago, I asked her — as I was feeding her her yogurt & fruit — “What could be causing this eczema?” Well, duh. I looked down at the little bowl and then apologized to Audrey. Then, I looked over at Wesley, my 5yo, and told him about my little revelation.
Wesley has been on a gluten-free diet since he was 14 months, due to celiac disease. He has continued to have other health issues like eczema and asthma, and secondary food intolerances & allergies. Compared to the celiac disease, none of it, except for his anaphylaxis to peanuts, seemed like that big of a deal. However, over the last year or so, at the age in life when my other two sons had outgrown their asthma, Wesley’s has been getting worse. His pediatrician wants us to go to an asthma specialist, as he is concerned about our frequent use of the SVN/nebulizer/breathing machine we have to use with Wes. (Some weeks, we don’t use it at all… but other weeks, we have to use it 2-3x/day.)
I have become increasingly concerned about Wes’ asthma, and would like to take him to the specialist. However, my husband Martin is really resistant to using any further medication on Wes. Martin’s childhood memories are filled with trips to the ER and tons of oral steriods for asthma (from which he weaned himself, at age 17, and has experienced only rare episodes of asthma since, and which — the steriods — he thinks is probably the reason that for the last 5 years, he’s struggled with alopecia areata) . I have told my husband that I’m not really interested in giving Wes more drugs, either, and that I’m certain that (like the rest of his health problems) the source of his asthma is diet-related. BUT, until we find the trigger source, I’m not opposed to medicating him further. (Any mother who has seen their child gasp for air, eyes wide, stomach heaving, shoulders tightened, can surely understand where I’m coming from.)
All of this comes flooding into my mind as I chirpily tell Wesley, “Goodness! I think Audrey is going to have to remain dairy-free! That must be the source of her ecze –” I stop short. I pick up the phone to call Martin. “It just dawned on me that dairy is likely the source of Audrey’s eczema. Do you think it might be the source of Wesley’s eczema and asthma, too? Do you think I should maybe try him dairy-free?” Martin is immediately convinced that this is the route we should go, like right now, cold-turkey, immediately.
I get off the phone and sit thinking. I slowly talk to Wes about how we might have to make him dairy-free. He takes it in stride, and continues eating, responding, “OK.” Like, no big deal, what’s one more food I can’t have, right? Then, I ask him, “Do you know what dairy is? It’s anything made from milk, like sour cream and cheese.” He stares at me. Long pause. He looks straight ahead. Longer pause. Then, with a plaintive, tiny voice that cracks a little, he tells me, “I need cheese.”
My heart breaks. He already can’t have wheat, rye, barley, oats, peanuts, soy, olives, carob, citrus or tree nuts. That is an incredibly restrictive diet, but one that we’ve grown accustomed to. He is remarkably cooperative in his diet, and way more aware than any 5yo should have to be of how ill these foods make him, and that the peanuts are truly deadly (he calls peanuts “my mortal emeny.”) However, the boy lives on chicken, corn tortillas, sour cream and cheese.
I’ve been in the world of Food Intolerances for so long that I’m aware that this is not just a simple lactose intolerance — it’s the casein. Casein is the protein in milk, and is much more pervasive than lactose, which is the sugar in milk. You can take the lactose out of dairy, but you can’t take the casein out. And, if casein is the problem, you have to take a zero-tolerance stance. No questionable foods, and no cheating.
Wes already drinks rice milk (made by WestSoy — the only brand that does not use carob bean gum as a thickener), so that’s not an issue. But, no dairy means no cheese. No g.f. pizza. No butter. No milk in my homemade baked goods. No milk in the prepared g.f. items I buy. No milk chocolate. No ice cream. No sour cream. No cheese. No cheese. No cheese.
I’m already a label-reader, but now I’m having to re-read and re-re-read labels. It’s taking me nearly 3 hours again to grocery shop. It’s almost like when we first discovered about gluten.
I have sort of held out hope that maybe this wasn’t it, for Wesley’s sake, so he could have his beloved cheese. But, after enduring probably the worst month in his life for asthma, since I started him dairy/casein-free 9 days ago, he’s not had one asthma attack. He hasn’t even been wheezy. He went from 1-3 SVN treatments a day down to none. He’s not had a ONE since last Tuesday. His eczema doesn’t appear any better — in fact, he scratched his legs to bleeding last night. But, it could be that that takes longer to heal up. Or, it could be that the dairy is triggering his asthma, but is not the source of the eczema.
Or, it could be that this whole thing is entirely coincidental and he’s just had a good week for his asthma. But… I’m already preparing my heart and my resolve, for the sake of the health of my dear son, to help him forego dairy for life, if need be.