Milk Protein Allergy
One of the most common food allergies in babies and young children is cow's milk allergy. The good news is that milk allergies are usually outgrown by babies when they turn 2 or 3 years old. Its symptoms are usually managed by consuming a dairy-free diet.
Regular milk is composed of carbohydrates, fat, proteins, water, vitamins, and minerals. It is the protein content of milk that is causing the allergic reaction. Allergy to cow's milk protein can develop in formula-fed and breastfed infants. However, most children who are breastfed are less likely to have any food allergies.
Milk protein allergy symptoms usually happen within a few minutes to a few days of cow's milk consumption. Infants may ingest it through milk formula or through the breast milk of their mother, who have ingested cow's milk products. The symptoms of allergy can either suddenly or gradually occur.
- Feeding problems (refusing to eat)
- Skin rash
- Loose stools (may be bloody)
How is it diagnosed?
There is no specific test that can diagnose milk protein allergies in babies. Doctors usually diagnose the condition after evaluating your child's symptoms along with ruling out other health conditions through the following tests:
- Blood tests
- Allergy tests (Patch testing or skin prick test)
- Stool examination
- Oral food challenges
An elimination diet, which often lasts for 1-2 weeks may also be recommended by the doctor. It starts by feeding your child with hypoallergenic formula or by eliminating products that contain cow's milk in your diet if you are breastfeeding. After a few weeks, cow's milk can be reintroduced to your child to see if his or her symptoms return. Along with a dairy-free diet, special medications such as antihistamines or epinephrine are given in the case of severe allergic reactions.
Reintroducing Dairy Products
You can gradually introduce dairy products into your baby’s diet as your baby grows older. However, reintroducing dairy back into your baby's diet must only be on the advice of your physician or allergist.
When your child turns 12-18 months old, doctors may advise reintroducing dairy products every six months until he or she is no longer allergic to cow’s milk. Moreover, follow your doctor’s recommendations on how to properly reintroduce milk products to your baby’s diet.
Do not reintroduce milk and other dairy products to your child’s diet, especially when he or she has a history of severe allergic reactions or anaphylaxis. Make sure that your child has undergone allergy testing to confirm if your baby has indeed outgrown his or her allergy.
Foods to Avoid
Do not give your child cow’s milk and other milk products as long as your child is allergic to it. Below is a list of the following foods and ingredients to avoid:
- Cow’s milk or anything that contains cow’s milk such as evaporated milk, condensed milk, skim milk, and powdered milk
- Dairy products (cheese, ice cream, yogurt)
- Lactaid® (lactose-free dairy product)
- Soy-based products that contain cow’s milk
- Ready-to-eat cereals with cow’s milk content
- Products that contain whey protein, casein, caseinate, or sodium and calcium caseinate
These are only some of the foods that your child should avoid. Ensure that you speak with a doctor for a more detailed list and information about the foods that should not be included in your child's diet.
A food allergy happens when the immune system overreacts to certain types of foods. In such cases, the immune system recognizes certain foods as harmful, which then leads to an allergic reaction. The common symptoms of an allergic reaction to milk protein are an upset stomach, vomiting, diarrhea, skin rash, or a bloody stool. A milk protein allergy can also cause a stuffy nose, particularly in babies. Usually, the symptoms of a milk protein allergy are mild, but can also be severe in some cases, such as difficulty breathing.
The best way to managing this type of allergy is to avoid the consumption of milk and other milk products. However, most children ages 3-5 years old tend to outgrow their milk protein allergy. A key part of the child’s treatment and safety is follow-up care.
Caring for Your Child at Home
- For breastfeeding mothers, avoid consuming milk and other dairy products, such as cheese, butter, and yogurt. Speak with your doctor on how to gradually reintroduce one dairy product at a time into your diet.
- Try a soy-based formula. However, there are also infants who have allergic reactions to soy. In such cases, try hypoallergenic formulas instead. A couple of examples are Alimentum® and Nutramigen®.
- If you have decided to wean your child, avoid giving cow’s milk right away. Consult your doctor first.
- Whey, casein, caseinate, and curds are the words to look for when buying food items.
- Learn how to give your child an epinephrine shot in case your child develops a severe allergic reaction. Always keep an epinephrine kit with you and ensure that the medicine is still good and has not expired.
- Tell caregivers and your child’s teachers on what to do if your child experiences a severe allergic reaction.
The best way to prevent milk protein allergies in newborns and infants is to breastfeed your baby. According to research, the development of a cow's milk allergy can be prevented or delayed by exclusively breastfeeding your baby for at least 4-6 months or even longer. If anyone in your immediate family members has a milk protein allergy, your child's risk of developing the same allergic reaction also increases. For this reason, breastfeeding your child is still the best feeding option.
Breast Milk Is the Best
Breastfeeding is the best when it comes to feeding your baby. Aside from preventing milk protein allergies, breast milk offers protection against illnesses and infections. It is also nutritionally balanced. Studies have shown that breastfed babies have lesser chances of developing chronic diseases and food allergies. The risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is also reduced when babies are breastfed.
Milk protein is often a hidden ingredient in processed and packed foods, such as chocolate, flavorings, hot dogs, margarine, sausages, and lunch meat. Carefully read product labels to determine if they contain milk or other milk products.
You Are Not Alone
Your child may be in distress when he or she experiences the symptoms of a milk protein allergy, and as a mother, it can be painful to see this. Do not hesitate to get help from friends and family or any support groups who will help you with some strategies on how to cope with the situation. If you talk to others, you will realize that you are not the only one going through such challenges alone.