People of any age, shape or size can have a milk allergy, but it is more common in infants(affecting around 2% to 3% of babies). Some kids will “outgrow” the allergy, but others don’t. Identifying the milk allergy symptoms babies can display will help a parent improve their child’s health and immunity.
About Milk Allergy
When a child is allergic to milk, this means that his or her immune system overreacts to proteins in a cow’s milk. The reaction would normally be used to fight off infections, but an allergy is a biological mistake that bodies often make. Every time the child has milk, the body thinks that these proteins are harmful invaders trying to kill you and works very hard to get rid of them. This causes an allergic reaction in which chemicals like histamine are released.
Milk allergy is not the same thing as lactose intolerance, which is when the body has trouble digesting the carbohydrate lactose, which is present in cow’s milk.
Babies can show their first symptoms of a milk allergy within days to weeks after being introduced to a cow’s milk-based formula. Babies that are breastfed tend to have a lower risk of developing a milk allergy when compared to those that are fed formula.
If a mother is breastfeeding her baby that is allergic to milk, then the baby may also experience symptoms of allergy if the mother is consuming dairy products. Some babies have a reaction soon after having milk and others have problems hours or days later.
If the allergy to milk is so severe that your baby may be hospitalized, it is important to keep epinephrine auto-injectors on hand in the case of anaphylaxis. Epinephrine is an easy-to-use prescription medicine that comes in a pen.(1)
Milk Allergy Symptoms Babies Will Have
If a child shows symptoms of allergy quickly after consuming milk, they will likely display some of these noticeable symptoms:
- Throat tightening
- Itchy or swollen eyes
- Upset stomach
- Red Spots
- Trouble breathing
- Drop in blood pressure/Loss of Consciousness
An allergy to milk can cause unique symptoms in each body at different times, so it is important to notice patterns and cross-reference reactions to other foods. Perhaps even an instance of exposure to milk will cause immediate symptoms now and then more symptoms two days later, which is very possible. Reactions can also cause different symptoms affecting more than one system of the body(like coughing and hives on the skin).
Children that develop long-term symptoms after consuming milk may experience the following problems hours or days after exposure:
- Skin rashes or eczema
- Vomiting or gagging
- Decreased appetite
- Irratibility or colic(2)
- Loose stools that may be bloody
In the Case of a Severe Allergic Reaction
If your baby starts to have severe allergic symptoms like swelling of the throat, trouble breathing, hives or projectile vomiting.
- Use the epinephrine auto-injector immediately because every second counts.
- After that, call 911 or take your child to the hospital. Even if your child’s symptoms have diminished, you never know if long-term symptoms will occur because the milk is likely still in your child’s system. That’s why you should always seek medical supervision for your baby’s severe reactions.
On the other hand, an intolerance to milk has nothing to do with cow’s milk proteins. Rather, it involves the immune system present in the digestive tract and occurs when the carbohydrate(sugar) in milk cannot be digested.
Also called lactose intolerance, it is very rare for young babies to be born with this metabolic condition. Lactose intolerance usually develops in older kids and adults. The few babies that are born with it will fare much better on a formula with no lactose in it.
Symptoms of lactose intolerance in babies include:
- Bloated belly
- Eczema or itchy skin
- Irritability or colic
- Failure to gain proper weight
Diagnosing a Milk Allergy in Babies
If you believe that your child is displaying symptoms of either a milk allergy or intolerance, see your pediatrician. They will complete a physical exam and test your baby’s stool, as well as discuss your family’s history of allergies.
You may also be referred to an allergist that could perform a skin-prick test on the baby’s skin that will determine the proteins that he or she is allergic or intolerant to. If milk allergy is ruled out, then perhaps there is another culprit pertaining to your baby’s symptoms and you may want to change your formula or remove milk from your diet(if you are breastfeeding) to see if symptoms improve.
Treating a Milk Allergy in Infants
If it turns out that your baby is one of two to three percent of babies who have a milk allergy, there’s no need to despair. The allergy usually improves within a year or so anyway. In the meantime:
- If you breastfeed, your doctor will recommend that you eliminate dairy products from your diet and see if that makes a difference in your baby. This may be a major change in your diet, but it can very well resolve the health issue for your baby. Make sure you get enough calcium and potassium in your diet if you eliminate dairy.
- If you feed your baby formula, switch to a difference formula. Since many babies with milk allergies can be sensitive to soy and goat’s milk, your doctor may suggest a hydrosalysate formula(3) in which the milk proteins are partially broken down, so it is less likely to cause a reaction. There are also many hypoallergenic formulas that may be beneficial as well.