Does Your Baby Have a Milk Allergy?

Milk allergy is the most common food allergy in infants and young children.

Milk allergy is the most common food allergy in infants and young children. It affects about 2.5 percent of those under 3 years old and is most likely to develop in the first year of life.

While it is distressing to witness allergic symptoms in your baby, know that you can still provide solid nutrition while keeping him or her safe. The other good news is that your child is likely to outgrow the milk allergy, and it won’t be lifelong.

Signs of Milk Allergy in Infants

A milk allergy may be present from birth, or it may develop after several months. Obviously, babies cannot tell you when something feels wrong. Look for signs a few minutes to a couple hours after feeding.

A mild to moderate reaction could appear as hives, runny nose, diarrhea, vomiting or irritability. It may be confused with colic, gas or other common issues babies face. Learn more about how a young child might express an allergic reaction.

If your child shows symptoms of a severe allergic reaction, or anaphylaxis, call 911. This is a medical emergency, and you must seek treatment immediately.

Testing and Diagnosis

Do not try to diagnose a food allergy on your own, no matter how clear you think it may be. Infancy is not the time to experiment with nutrition and food restrictions.

Make an appointment with your pediatrician to start. That doctor may refer you to a qualified allergist for further evaluation and testing. You may prefer to see one who specializes in infants and children.

Sometimes rashes may develop after breastfeeding if a child is allergic to a food in the mother’s diet. As with other nutrients, milk protein in the mother’s diet will pass down to the baby through breast milk. If a breastfeeding infant has no history of reactions after breastfeeding than the mother does not need to take milk out of her diet.

If your baby is taking a standard, milk-based formula, it will be easier to determine that your child has a milk allergy. Early solid foods made with milk, such as yogurt or homemade creamy soups, may also set off the allergy.

The allergist will help determine what’s causing the reaction and how best to avoid the problem food. You may also need to rule out the less serious condition of lactose intolerance, though it is even rarer in infants.

If your child’s reaction to the milk was severe, the doctor will likely prescribe epinephrine.

Feeding Options for Infants with Milk Allergy

If your child is diagnosed with a milk allergy, you will need to ensure he or she avoids milk at least through early childhood. The milk allergy is likely to subside as the child's digestive system matures.

Breastfeeding mothers may choose to drop milk and other dairy products from their own diets. This may prove challenging if you tend to eat a lot of dairy, but it can certainly be done. You’ll want to make sure that your diet remains balanced and that you’re getting enough calcium (a supplement may help), for the health of both you and your baby.

Another option is to feed your baby with an extensively hydrolyzed, casein-based formula. This type of formula contains protein that has been broken down so it is different from milk protein and not as likely to cause an allergic reaction. Examples of casein-hydrolysate formulas include Alimentum® and Nutramigen®.

Milk-free formulas are designed to be an excellent source of necessary nutrients for infants. Many doctors recommend continuing with formula well past the first year for children who are on restricted diets due to food allergy. Discuss your options with your doctor or dietitian. Together, you can make sure the child’s nutritional requirements are met—through infancy, toddlerhood and beyond.

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