I had my first child thirteen years ago and was blissfully ignorant of food allergies at the time other than knowing that they existed, could be dangerous, and are unfortunate for those who have them. Little did I know my adventure had just begun.

My beautiful little baby was not a picture of the peaceful, slumbering child one imagines having, but a wailer who cried nonstop for hours every night. I knew something was wrong, but he otherwise appeared to be a healthy baby. His pediatrician suggested it might be gas and since I was breastfeeding exclusively, suggested that I cut down on gassy foods. I did, but nothing changed.

This went on for almost four months until a friend of mine who also happened to be an integrative physician, suggested that maybe it was food allergies. Food allergies? But I was breastfeeding exclusively (which everyone knows is the best thing for babies) and besides, I didn’t have any known food allergies. She persisted and suggested that under her guidance I cut wheat from my diet for two weeks and see if it made a difference. So reluctantly, I tried it and nothing changed.

Undeterred, she then suggested I cut out dairy. Admittedly, cutting wheat from my diet wasn’t easy, but it was also not that difficult for me since I didn’t eat that much to start. But dairy, that was a different story. I loved my dairy and cutting that out was a true sacrifice. No cheese, yogurt, milk, cream for my coffee, ice cream, milk chocolate, I mean, seriously? Yes, seriously. Tired, wanting to keep breastfeeding, and willing to try it if it could make the crying stop, I gave it a whirl.

The first few days were torture as I would by habit, reach for the cream for my coffee, look longingly at the five different cheeses I kept in the fridge, or the ice cream in the freezer, and the crying persisted. By the fourth or fifth night however, the hours of evening crying waned and by the end of the week it had pretty much stopped. Stopped! Was it really that simple as eliminating dairy from my diet? For us, an emphatic yes! And to finally enjoy a quite night of mostly uninterrupted sleep, with no pacing the floor singing to an unconsolable baby was sheer bliss!

The temptations from the dairy mostly vanished knowing the power it had to harm my baby and ruin our now relatively quite nights of sleep. I did miss the dairy though. At that time commercial substitutes I could find for milk and milk products were limited to soy, rice, oat and almond. I tried them all and all left me wanting, although the rice and oat milks I found the most tolerable of my choices. Never really a milk drinker, I suddenly wanted to be able to drink some milk, or something that at least tasted more similarly than my choices.

I started looking into other possible substitutions for dairy, checking out vegan cookbooks from the library and trying to search for recipes or products on the nascent world wide web. I was amazed at what one can do with a blender and cheesecloth to render various foods into milk-like substitutes, from almonds to zucchini. Truly, nothing satisfied me so we mostly just avoided dairy, its products, and recipes that required much dairy. When we did substitute dairy we used enriched rice milk or soy milk, if rice milk was unavailable.

Thus began my first foray into eating without. For more than a year dairy was the only food we avoided, and over time it just became who we were and how we ate. When my baby started solids that opened up a new world of allergies, but that’s another story.