Having seen thousands of little people over the last 13 years that we've been working as Sleep Fairies, we've found that around half of them either have reflux or allergies that are contributing to their sleep being disrupted. Some have already been diagnosed when we see them. Some parents have their suspicions that there could be something else going on. Others have no idea until we start discussing the possibility with them.
There are many potential allergens that can cause problems with sleep and behaviour due to the discomfort caused by consuming them, but the most common is dairy (and usually soya too).
There are lots of theories about the benefit of having dairy products in our diets. Many people believe that babies and toddlers need it as the main source of their nutrition until they are 2 or even 3 years old. However, the human gut often struggles to digest milk proteins and this can lead to all sorts of unpleasant side effects or symptoms. Some are mild and could go unnoticed for many years, while others are severe and could lead to anaphylactic shock.
When we visit you about your little one's sleep or behaviour, we need to work out if there is anything going on internally that could be causing them to feel uncomfortable, bad-tempered or wake them up at night. If they are consuming something that doesn't agree with them, there are likely to be external symptoms. The most common reactions to dairy are dry skin, rashes or eczema and unpleasant poos. So we look at their skin and ask questions about their poos, which are likely to have mucus in them or be loose and frequent (more than 3 per day). Or they could be constipated and on regular laxatives. Babies may also grunt a lot, pull their legs up or arch their backs whilst writhing around and howling.
There could be other reasons for these symptoms or behaviours so we spend a long time discussing all aspects of your child's sleeping, temperament, behaviour, diet, development and anything else we think might be relevant before suggesting you try going dairy-free. We also suggest discussing it with a GP or health visitor too.
If you have a suspicion that your little one could be having a negative reaction to dairy, providing they are weaned onto solid food, it is relatively easy to cut dairy out for a few weeks to see if it makes a difference. It may not make much difference to their behaviour and sleep as they may have developed habits and learnt behaviour over time (which we can help you to change), but you will definitely see some positive changes if they are intolerant. If nothing changes after three to six weeks, you can reintroduce it and look at other areas.