Constant Vigilance Means Constant Stress: Managing Cow’s Milk Allergy in Infants

Food allergies can arise at any age, even in the youngest children. Nearly 3 percent of U.S. infants develop a food allergy in the first year of life. More than half of these babies – 53 percent – react to cow’s milk protein. Infants encounter this common allergen in milk and milk products, as well as in breastmilk if milk products are part of the mother’s diet.

There’s no approved treatment to prevent food allergy reactions, so allergy management requires strict avoidance of the problem food. Young children are messy eaters, and infants are eager to explore everything they encounter with their mouths, making staple foods like cow’s milk, cheese and yogurt especially hard to avoid. And the stakes are high for managing infant allergies to cow’s milk protein. In the short term, each food allergy reaction diminishes quality of life and risks triggering the severe and potentially life-threatening symptoms of anaphylaxis. In the long term, having an active early allergy to cow’s milk – especially an allergy that causes eczema and damages the skin barrier – can increase the risk of developing other food allergies and additional allergic conditions such as hay fever and asthma. This progression of allergy development is called the allergic march.

The constant vigilance needed to manage a young child’s food allergy takes a mental, emotional and even physical toll on parents. More than 90 percent of food allergy centers in the FARE Clinical Network report treating patients whose parents suffer from anxiety related to their child’s allergies. And compared to mothers whose young children do not have food allergies, mothers of food-allergic children under age 5 have higher blood pressures and report greater stress.

If you’re a parent or caregiver who’s experiencing food allergy stress, it’s important to take care of yourself, too. Consider joining a FARE-recognized food allergy support group in your area to meet, share and advocate with families like yours, who “get it.” You can search for a local licensed mental health professional through the Food Allergy Counselor Directory. And no matter where you live, you can find educational webinars on managing the emotional and mental health impact of food allergies on FARE’s website. You are not alone on this journey!


This article and the Infancy: Early Steps content series are powered by Mead Johnson’s Allergic Action Campaign.