I have often wondered if I am the reason my children cannot tolerate milk. I am almost phobic about it and haven’t drunk it since I was a five year old milk monitor. I am still haunted by the memory of those lukewarm little bottles and the tiny blue straws we had to poke through the cream encrusted silver tops. If I think too hard about it, I can almost smell it. Just watching someone drinking milk makes my stomach turn. That gross milk moustache and the way it slowly slides back down the glass leaving a cloudy coating.
So needless to say, I didn’t drink any milk during my pregnancies – and possibly didn’t give them immunity? It was hard enough to keep down the foods I love, let alone pluck up the courage to put milk in my fridge. In fact, I was so sick I couldn’t even open my fridge for weeks, so there was no way it way I could bring myself to try it again after over thirty years.
Naturally, I was concerned and asked my midwife. She was not worried and just advised me to be super vigilant about getting the necessary calcium from other food sources. That was all I needed to know, so I didn’t give it another thought. Until the time I started to wean Sophia and she started to throw up every time she had a drink of cow’s milk.
I had a brief chat with the health visitor about it and she said we had no need to worry. Sophia was bottle fed and was fine during that time, a bit colicky in the first three months but nothing out of the ordinary. I was curious as to why ‘neat’ cow’s milk caused a problem, when formula and even baby yoghurts and cheese didn’t. She explained that the formula and other dairy products go through so many different processes that it makes them much easier to tolerate than milk in it’s pure form. Made sense to me, so I just moved Sophia on to growing up milk and toddler milk and latterly soya milk.
Next it was Zac’s turn. There is only 20 months between them, so it seemed that weaning time came round very quickly. I was a bit nervous to introduce cow’s milk again, so was very wary as he approached 12 months, which is when I was told you can try and introduce it on cereals and as a drink.
Zac had also been bottle fed. He was never a particularly settled baby. He used to struggle after night feeds. I could hear him snorting and grunting. I even took him to a cranial osteopath. She explained that a lot of babies have blockages caused by the ‘birth journey’. He arrived very swiftly and she explained he had probably missed out on the ‘hours’ in the birth canal that helps with the shaping! Whatever, but after a few massages, he was finally able to cry proper tears and his head seemed a lot less blocked.
But he was still a fidgety sleeper and had some very unsettled moments after feeds. He always had a lot of dirty nappies. More than I remembered with Sophia. But he was growing well and fine in all other ways, so I didn’t think too much of it. Just put it down to him being a bit less easy going than his sister!
Once he hit six months old and we started weaning, he did change. He was a hungry little chap and loved ‘food’. His formula feeds dropped off very quickly and he appeared to love to eat real food. He would eat anything I put in front of him and I did try and keep his diet as varied as possible. Although bread, pasta, baby yoghurts and cream cheese became firm favourites. Perhaps I let him over eat them. I guess I will never know because by the time he was approaching his first birthday, he contracted swine flu and was very ill.
That is when everything changed and my relationship with milk changed again. The swine flu caused Zac weeks of diarrhoea. As he started to feel better and regained his appetite the foods he seems to crave were bananas, cream cheese sandwiches and yoghurts.
One evening he really seemed hungry and ate a lovely big dinner, followed by a bit of cream cheese on toast, two little yoghurts and some toddler milk. As the evening went on, I noticed his tummy ‘growing’, just before bed it looked like his little pyjama jacket would fly open like something from a cartoon.
He went to sleep ok but an hour later I could hear him crying and got to his room, just in time to witness him bringing up his dinner. He was sick at regular intervals all through the night. Then the next day his tummy was flat again and he was bright as a button.
He didn’t eat much all day, but dinner time he had his appetite back and ate well. That evening he was ill again. It was easy to work it out. He had not had any milk or dairy since the night before and within hours of eating it he was ill again.
The next day I took him to our GP and he agreed it could be lactose intolerance brought on by his illness, a kind of post infective colitis. He congratulated me for spotting it and advised us to switch him to soya milk for a few months and make an appointment with the dietitian. He also told me to check out the Vegan Society website – as they are experts at ‘dairy dodging’, as I like to call it.
And that’s how it started. Milk and me became enemies once again and I have been doing my own detective work ever since. It has been a staggering and shocking mission – the number of other children with this condition has been the most alarming discovery. Only today, at my exercise class I met another mother with a little baby with lactose intolerance! Like me she is now trying to work it all out for herself as she has had some poor and contradictory advice from health visitors, dietitians and doctors.
In years since Zac got ill we have met many doctors, specialists and dietitians but at the end of the day, I am the one who ended up working out his intolerance and triggers and then worked out how to keep him well. So Zac, and this entire household is a dairy free zone and I have become an expert at spotting all the places it creeps in.
What happens next? Well, next week I am visiting The Allergy Show. http://www.allergyshow.co.uk/
The fact that there is a show, and recently a Free From Foods Awards Ceremony, is slightly unsettling. Who would have thought ten years ago that there would be enough sufferers, food manufacturers and specialists to fill one of the halls at Olympia? Anyway, I hope to find some more ‘Zac friendly’ food brands, there is a huge exhibitors list. I also hope to speak to some specialists and get some more information – particularly on why milk is such a problem for so many people. Apparently, there are some workshops and consultations available, so with a bit of luck I will come back with some answers.