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A Merry CMPA Christmas, and a Happy and Healthy New Year

CMPA Christmas tips and advice for a safe and enjoyable dairy-free Christmas.

The Reality of a Dairy-Free, CMPA Christmas

CMPA Christmas, Tree

Christmas is fast approaching, and it’s that time of year full of delicious treats and even more lovely gifts of chocolates and biscuits – yum!

Because that’s what December is all about, isn’t it! (Note this is a statement, not a question.) Just as much as spending time with the fam and partaking in the excitement of the festive spirit (or mulled wine, I’m not fussy), Noel is all about decadent overindulgence.

Alas, for those of us facing a CMPA Christmas, it’s not quite the same experience…

Last year I was a bit limited in this regard, because I was pregnant: beyond a few sips I had to forgo the alcohol and I was unable to enjoy some of my favourite cheese. But it was just one of those things, and I planned to make up for it this year in spades!

Except…shortly after delivering my baby girl, she was diagnosed with CMPA. Which essentially means that by comparison, last year was a breeze.

Now I know what it is to have a truly restricted diet.

Yes, it really is necessary to be that vigilant.

Is It Really Necessary to Be So Vigilant?

None of us can be sure what triggers anaphylaxis, but we can be certain it’s dangerous and potentially fatal and I’m sure we’ll all agree that nothing is worth that risk. Allergic reactions can start off mild, with continued exposure to an allergen developing into anaphylaxis.

So yes, it really is necessary to be that vigilant.

The health of our babies is obviously non-negotiable and breastfeeding is the optimal way to help heal their gut. So while it’s tough, it’s also a point of pride for us, in doing our utmost to care for our little ones.

Removing allergens from our diets is not an eccentric whimsy or trend – a CMPA diet is a necessity to keep our breastfeeding allergy child/ren well. The alternative is to essentially poison them.

There’s only one thing worse than missing my favourite foods and all the anxiety that goes along with my current diet, and that’s when those around us don’t take it seriously.

I’m lucky that for the most part, that’s not been my experience – but it is for many people who live with allergies.

There are many ways this can occur, sometimes through a lack of knowledge, other times through a lack of care. Check out this video for the lowdown:

Take it from me: none of us would choose for our babies to have allergies and none of us would willingly put ourselves on such a restrictive diet (except for vegans – more power to them because I’ll be stuffing my face again as soon as I’m safely able to do so).

What a CMPA Christmas Looks Like in Practice…

Every Christmas my MIL saves her Costa points up to treat us to a yummy lunch.

This year I drank hot water. I’m not joking.

I don’t want to be defined by my diet, but it often feels inevitable, and Christmas is the worst time for it.

She tried her best, calling ahead to try to order something in that I could eat, but it couldn’t be done. And I’m sick of drinking black coffee and fake cake.

She told me during that afternoon with no trace of irony that it was just so difficult to find anything I could eat.

Don’t. I. Know. It.

A week later we visited my MIL for dinner and she’d cooked a chilli from scratch so that it was safe for me. Alas I was unable to enjoy the cheese, garlic bread, coleslaw, wedges, tortilla chips – and even the wine.

Shortly after, my FIL treated me to some dairy-free chocolate (very thoughtful), and two bottles of Merlot (my favourite) – alas again, I couldn’t drink the wine.

A glass of red wine on a table.

I was also bought chocolates and biscuits for Christmas which I had to pass on.

And this is the reality of a CMPA Christmas: even when people mean well – they don’t always get it right.

I don’t want to be defined by my diet, but it often feels inevitable, and Christmas is the worst time for it.

A CMPA Christmas Dinner

We spent the holidays with my brother and his family, and it was about as perfect as Christmas with children can be.

Yes, there were a few stressful moments, and sadly given the time of year there was also too much illness (ergo not enough sleep) with Elfin in particular suffering from a persistent cough which has caused her to vomit at least once most nights. 

But in spite of that, it was wonderful and magical, and everything you’d wish for (apart from the illness and lack of sleep of course).

For our Christmas dinner we went to the local pub. We had high hopes of it being a bit special because a bridleway runs through the pub and in order to keep it open a horse must pass through once year, which it does on Christmas day!

I was apprehensive before, during, and afterwards.

Unfortunately this means the entire village turns out for the show; I’m not good with crowds – at all – so that ended up being less fun than I’d hoped: we couldn’t even see the horse through the mob, but we heard the hooves clatter through and then thankfully the throng thinned out.

The reality of breastfeeding with CMPA during Christmas and the New Year. How to deal with a restrictive dairy-free diet during the festive period.

In the end, dinner itself was nice and I’d say it was a success; but I was apprehensive before, during, and afterwards.

First, I had to contact the pub to go through the menu meticulously to ensure there were safe options I could eat, or that could be adjusted accordingly.

Then I had to continuously ask the waitress ‘is this dairy-free?’.

And finally I had to wait and hope that I would not see a reaction in Elfin.

I’m so conscious of others inadvertently giving my daughter unsafe foods.

Except even when Elfin was later sick, I couldn’t be sure whether it was a reaction to something I’d eaten or if it was because she was still unwell. The constant second-guessing and questioning is beyond stressful.

Never being quite sure why your baby is suffering and whether there’s something you could have done to prevent it is a frequent source of guilt and stress.

We’re beginning to wean Elfin now and that adds a whole layer to my anxiety. I’m so conscious of everything that passes both our lips, and more so of the possibility of others inadvertently giving Elfin unsafe foods (an allergy food diary recording everything can help with this).

Honestly, for ease and peace of mind part of me would prefer not to wean our CMPA baby at all, but of course that’s not a real option.

Breastfeeding support | Image shows a woman holding her baby and breastfeeding.

Dairy Envy: Cheese and Chocolate Cravings

On top of that anxiety, there’s the more selfish issue of feeling I’m missing out. That probably sounds trivial, and perhaps it is. But I’m not just talking about one or two items – there are so many things you cannot have when you’re dairy-free.

And occasionally it really, really gets to me.

Every item I once considered a treat is now off-limits.

For the most part, I’m used to it now having been dairy and soya free for about six months. For those of you who have never attempted this diet, allow me to just give you a little insight into what that actually means…

For six months I’ve abstained from all cheese (that means pizza too), all milk and white chocolate, real ice-cream, most biscuits, cakes, and pastries; I cannot drink real Baileys, some wines, or even a latte.

Every item I once considered a treat is now off-limits.

Make no mistake: it is hard. Damn hard.

I can’t even enjoy a proper coffee from cafes which provide coconut or almond milk, because milk can get burnt onto the heating wand causing contamination. So I have my milk cold on the side or I drink it black.

In fairness, there are actually some very good alternatives available, and I’ve tried many of them; some I’d even endorse as legitimate new treats even after I’m able to consume dairy again.

But mostly it’s a pain in the ass and completely demoralising. Nonetheless, I continue gladly for the sake of my baby.

But make no mistake: it is hard. Damn hard.

A selection of Christmas cupcakes with blue, white, pink, and green frosting.

Safe CMPA Christmas Treats From Loved Ones – They Mean the World

As well as the occasional issue with unsafe gifts, etc, I’ve also been very fortunate.

I have some wonderful friends and family who go out of their way to accommodate me. I’ve been known to get tearful when I’ve arrived for coffee with a friend and been offered a delicious dairy-free treat – home-cooked specially so that I can dig in.

I also have a cupboard full of dairy-free chocolate and a bottle of (almond milk) Baileys in the fridge. So yeah, I sometimes wish it didn’t define me, but also it means I’m good for snacks for the next couple of weeks…

CMPA Christmas Allergy Tips

With all this in mind, I wanted to offer a few tips to hopefully help see you through the challenging phase of the holidays.

Update: In just a few short years, things have come a long way. Nonetheless, these tips hold true.

1. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare!

Firstly, do your homework, and make sure you’re organised.

The stress can really ramp up over Christmas, so the best tip I have for you is to make sure you have things in hand in advance, and have a backup supply of safe foods available for emergencies.

If you’re staying away or going out to eat, take some dried foods with you just in case.

They really shouldn’t be necessary, but it’s better to be prepared for the worst and still have something you’re able to eat, rather than finding yourself drinking hot water like I did!

Woman with a hot drink looking out of the window.

2. Check Everything

Even if you’ve bought certain foods many times in the past, it’s important to always check ingredients lists, every time.

Unfortunately I’ve known people get caught out because the ingredients of previously safe foods have changed without any warning on the packaging.

3. Double Check Food is Safe With Staff

If you’re eating out, even if you’ve previously emailed and discussed dietary requirements, double check each dish you are brought.

I’ve personal experience of the right hand not knowing what the left hand’s doing, and despite meticulous advance planning, the kitchen or waiting staff have ultimately prepared or brought me unsafe foods.

4. Reiterate to Family the Importance of Being Vigilant

I get it – they should know by now.

But for your own peace of mind, it doesn’t hurt just to mention it once more. Or twice if it seems necessary!

5. Double Check Foods Are Safe With Family

Your child is counting on you to advocate for them.

I know, I know – this shouldn’t even be an issue and it truly pains me that it is.

Woman Laying on Bed With Head in Hands

But too often, they simply don’t get it, and no matter how many times they’re told, without any malice they still fail to be properly fastidious when it comes to ensuring foods are safe.

Your child is counting on you to advocate for them – better to risk offending than to inadvertently make your infant ill.

6. Stock Up On Dairy-Free Treats

Over the last few years, veganism has grown as a movement, and that has really helped us out.

With plenty of options available online and in supermarkets, there’s no reason to miss out on treats over Christmas. Do yourself a favour and order a few bits to keep in the cupboard for when a well-meaning family member presents you with a gift that you can’t enjoy.

Did you also face a CMPA Christmas, or a restricted diet due to other allergies? How did you cope with it?

Looking for more help? Head over to our CMPA support posts.