My year without lattes: A mother’s story

It’s sometimes the only thing keeping busy mums going- that glorious caffeine kick that comes from a hot coffee with just the right amount of froth. So what happens when you can no longer turn to a humble cuppa for that helping hand? North Shore Mum Cristin Kelly shares her story of a very personal sacrifice.

Long before having a child, I read a blog post by a mother who, after many sleepless nights with an upset baby, discovered that the culprit was a dairy intolerance. She figured it out by eliminating all dairy from her diet – all of it – pats of butter on toast, shreds of parmesan on spaghetti, everything. Because cow’s milk protein is carried through breast milk, even a small slip up would send her poor little one into gastrological distress.

Newborn sleepy cuddles

Sleepy newborn cuddles

As a dairy addict, that article stuck with me. What a cruel fate to befall that poor mother. No milk on her cereal, no cheese on crackers, no milk chocolate! I vowed in my head that dairy intolerance would never strike my family. I used to make vows like that (my baby won’t be a bad sleeper, my baby won’t cry in public) in the pre-child days when I thought I could just will these things to be so.

Surely, you can see where this is going. But, we didn’t discover my little daughter’s dairy intolerance until we’d been through weeks of misery. At first, our baby was unhappy because my attempts at breastfeeding were falling short of meeting her needs. A boost in production from Motilium and every natural remedy under the sun, plus an army of midwives helped, but in the end she kept losing weight until we finally decided to supplement with formula. It was a miserable start to parenting. I hated breastfeeding. She hated being hungry. She’d cluster feed for hours at a time. I hated breastfeeding even more. I cried all the time. She cried even more. Yet, in the face of the wrenching decision to add formula, I found myself with a new resolve that I would continue to breastfeed this baby as much as I could until she was a year old.

Through all of this, I was surviving on cup after cup of coffee and cheesy tortillas, which were the easiest, warmest, most soul-filling meals I could quickly fix myself between cluster feeds.

We had a week or so with a newly happy infant, and then the crying started again. She appeared to be in stomach pain. In the back of my mind, I had my suspicion that it could be the dreaded dairy intolerance, but pushed those thoughts away and ate more chocolate covered almonds until her GP suggested I try eliminating dairy for a couple of weeks. I felt like I’d been crushed by a falling piano that I’d been watching plummet towards me for ages. Yet, when that moment of truth came, I found a resolve that I never knew existed inside of me. I didn’t try to sneak in one last coffee or scoop of ice cream. I stopped my beloved dairy cold turkey, and I did it because I knew that my baby daughter needed me to.

We saw an improvement within a couple of days. It took longer to find the supplemental formula that worked for her, as her intolerance, we learned, extended to soy, which is the case with many babies with dairy intolerance. She got a prescription, and at last, we had a happy, well-fed baby. Her charming personality could finally shine through the pain she’d been suffering.


Cristin with her thriving daughter

My resolve to continue breastfeeding for a year remained strong, though I never came to love it. I had this feeling that my daughter and I had formed a pact, and I started to refer to it as ‘my year without lattes.’ Indeed, lattes were what I came to miss most. I made coffee at home in the French press everyday with a concoction of almond and coconut milk that I came to detest. I silently glared at people with takeaway coffee cups, so lucky to be drinking that hot, foamy goodness, unaware of how good they had it. My husband was nice enough to ask me permission to order pizza when we went out to eat once, which I of course granted, but that didn’t stop me from silently sending angry looks in the direction of that melty, melty, marvelous cheese. At our mother’s group potluck Christmas party, I almost ate a chicken salad sandwich, before I remembered that the bread probably had soy flour in it, and then hungrily stuck to the fruit plate for the rest of the festivities, unable to find anything else I deemed definitely safe. I faced guilt when I slipped up and accidentally ate something with hidden dairy or soy and my daughter’s tummy suffered.

Still, we carried on with the breastfeeding. We made it through the cracked nipples and then through the nipping stage when her first teeth arrived. Somehow we survived the boob-yanking phase, and I endured the bra strap popping-dental inspection-nose picking era. My girl and I were in this together, and we would get to our year.

Then, at 10 months old, my daughter got a cold. I got a cold. She lost interest in breastfeeding, turning her head away after a moment, and accepting only her bottle. This went on for a enough days that when I finally dragged my pump out, determined that I’d better get the situation under control, I found my supply basically gone. I did some research and thought for awhile about putting in the hard yards that it would take to get my supply back up for our last few weeks of feeding, but seeing that my daughter was perfectly happy and healthy with food and her bottle, I decided to follow her cues.

And so it was that my year without lattes suddenly turned into more like 8 months without lattes – a perfect metaphor to remind me that nothing in motherhood is going to work on the timetable I have set forth. I ate some pizza and an embarrassing amount of brie on my return to dairy, but I put off that first latte for some time, knowing that tipping back into my dear beverage was truly the end of the journey. It was a profound first sip, when I finally ordered one, a taste that spoke of more than frothy milk, but of my thriving baby, now closer to a toddler than an infant, and of the knowledge that I would give up anything for my little girl.

What’s the greatest sacrifice you’ve made for your children?

Cristin Kelly lives in Willoughby, and is a mother to two young daughters. She has a background in theatrical dramaturgy, and is passionate about exposing children to the arts. She blogs about kids and the arts at Artsplorers.