Milk Allergy in Infants

One sign that your baby may be allergic to cow’s milk is becoming excessively fussy after they’ve had a bottle. Although you may not be feeding them cow’s milk, it is found in many commercial infant formulas. Up to five percent of all babies and young children are allergic to cow’s milk, but most children grow out of it by the time they are five-years-old. Here is the information you may need about a milk allergy in infants.

What Is CMA (Cow Milk Allergy)?

A reaction to the proteins in cow’s milk may be a sign of a cow’s milk allergy. Most children are introduced to cow’s milk as babies and continue to drink it throughout their childhood because it can be part of a well-balanced diet. Although it is rare, some babies who are breast-fed may also have this allergy because they are exposed to the milk proteins through mothers who consume cow’s milk. Since cow’s milk is present in formulas, it is recommended that breast feeding continue and mothers stop consuming cow’s milk to reduce allergic reactions.


The reactions to cow’s milk are more common when switching from breast feeding to formula or when weaning infants from the breast. An infant’s reaction to cow’s milk may occur immediately after consuming milk or may be delayed. Some of the signs of an immediate reaction to cow’s milk proteins include:

  • Red rash around the mouth
  • Swelling of the face
  • Red lumps on the body
  • A runny nose
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Loose bowels

More severe symptoms are rare, but reactions like breathing problems or the child suddenly going limp may occur. If any of these reactions happens, immediate medical attention is necessary.

Some delayed reactions to a milk allergy in infants can be chronic and include:

  • Acid reflux
  • Eczema
  • Stunted growth
  • Colic
  • Constipation
  • Refusing to eat

Some of these symptoms may be shared with other medical conditions, so if your baby is having them, you need to consult with his or her pediatrician to find out the cause.

Differentiate with Milk Intolerance

Intolerance to milk has nothing to do with the proteins contained in cow’s milk or with the baby’s immune system. Instead, it is a reaction to the sugar contained in milk, which is called lactose. Milk intolerance is also called lactose intolerance and occurs because a breast-fed or formula-fed baby cannot digest lactose.

It is rare for babies to have lactose intolerance, which may be known as congenital lactose intolerance, as this condition usually develops in older children and adults. However, for babies who are lactose intolerant, if they are fed formulas without lactose or breast-fed, they will be fine. Some of the symptoms of lactose intolerance in infants include:

  • Flatulence
  • Bloating
  • Loose bowels
  • Spit up
  • Eczema
  • Fussiness or being colicky
  • Stunted growth

How Is Milk Allergy in Infants Diagnosed?

If you do suspect your baby has a milk allergy, you need to consult with his or her pediatrician, who will order tests to confirm an allergy or uncover other medical conditions. Although there is not a specific laboratory test for a milk allergy in infants, there are several tests they can do to help diagnose an allergy to cow’s milk. Your baby’s pediatrician may have his or her stools and blood tested for the allergy or they may do a skin test as well.

An allergy skin test involves taking milk proteins and injecting them just under the baby’s skin. If a raised bump appears, which is called a wheal, then he or she may be allergic to those proteins. An oral test may be given, if the doctor feels it is safe to do so. This involves feeding the baby milk and observing them for a reaction. If your child is diagnosed with a milk allergy, then you will probably be told to avoid feeding him or her milk and other products containing milk.

How to Treat Milk Allergy in Infants

Although the allergy to milk usually resolves on its own by the time children are three to five-years-old, some children never outgrow it.

1.    Check Labels

Look on the labels of the foods you buy for your child to see if they use milk or milk-based ingredients. This information is required to be on food labels and it will be included in or next to the list of ingredients.

2.    Avoid Dairies

Although a baby is breast-feeding, he or she may still be exposed to milk proteins through the mother’s milk. Try to avoid drinking milk or consuming other dairy foods because they can also contain milk proteins. You may wish to consult with your doctor about alternate ways to get the calcium you need to maintain your, as well as your baby’s, health.

3.    Change Formulas

If your baby is being fed with formula, then your baby’s pediatrician will recommend other types of formulas, such as a soy-based formula. However, some babies do not tolerate soy products well, so the doctor may suggest a hypoallergenic formula, of which there are two types:

  • Extensively hydrolyzed formula – This type of formula does contain cow’s milk, but the proteins are broken down into very small particles. Many babies can consume this formula because the milk particles are so small.
  • Amino acid-based formula – Amino acids are natural, basic proteins in the simplest form and this formula may be recommended for a milk allergy in infants.
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