Cow’s Milk Allergy: When It’s Not Just Fussy Feeding

Regular milk at the grocery store.

Does your baby get sick after feeding? Are they having a hard time tolerating your breast milk or formula? If so, they may have a cow’s milk allergy.

In the video below, Amanda Haney goes over what you need to know about babies that develop cow’s milk allergy.

If you don’t like the video or want more information, continue reading.

What is a cow’s milk allergy?

A cow’s milk allergy is an allergy that develops early on in your baby’s life. In fact, symptoms may occur as soon as your baby starts drinking formula or breast milk. However, don’t confuse this allergy with lactose intolerance. They’re not the same thing.

A cow’s milk allergy is different than lactose intolerance because it occurs when your body’s defense system, or immune system, doesn’t recognize the protein in cow’s milk. In response, your body starts to attack the protein when you eat it.

Lactose free milk

It’s important for this immune system reaction to be properly diagnosed early on because it can be harmful to your baby.

In this video, I will teach you about signs of a cow’s milk allergy, when to see a doctor, and recommended treatment options.

Onset, signs, and symptoms

First off, you may notice symptoms of a cow’s milk allergy as soon as your baby drinks formula or breast milk. On the other hand, it’s possible that symptoms may be delayed several hours or days.

Common signs of a cow’s milk allergy include an upset stomach (with spit-ups), vomiting, and normal or bloody diarrhea. Also, your baby may experience skin problems (like rashes, red spots, or swollen and itchy eyes) or breathing problems (like coughing, wheezing, increased phlegm, hoarse cry, or throat tightness).

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If your child has any of these symptoms, make an appointment with your pediatrician right away! Especially since their symptoms can worsen every time your baby is exposed to this protein.

To confirm their diagnosis, your doctor may order stool and blood tests. They may also refer you to an allergist for more testing and to confirm if your baby has other allergies.

Formula vs breastfeeding

If your baby drinks formula, your doctor will recommend a very easily digestible formula for the first year of life, also called a hypoallergenic formula. These formulas have milk proteins that are completely broken down. As a result, your baby’s immune system will not react to them. I recommend trying Enfamil, EleCare, or Neocate

Also, cow’s milk allergy symptoms are less common in breastfed infants. But, unfortunately, some babies still do react. If you are breastfeeding, the cow’s milk protein you eat can reach your baby through your breast milk. As a result, you’ll need to eliminate all cow’s milk protein from your diet. This includes milk, cheese, yogurt, and any food products that are made with cow’s milk.

Fortunately, you can find cow’s milk products by reviewing the ingredients list on your food labels. Other types of milk (like rice, almond, goat, or coconut milk) may be appropriate for older children but are still not safe for children less than 1 years old. 

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Overall, some children grow out of their milk allergy while others have to avoid cow’s milk for their entire life! If your child is diagnosed with this allergy, it’s important to work closely with your doctor and registered dietitian to make sure your child is meeting all of their nutrition needs without cow’s milk and to determine a safe feeding plan that works for you and your family.

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Amanda Haney (Legro), MS, RD, CNSC
Hi, my name is Amanda Haney (Legro). I am a registered dietitian and board-certified nutrition support clinician. I was born and raised in Bakersfield, CA. I later moved to Southern California to attend Cal State Long Beach where I obtained my undergraduate degree in nutrition and dietetics as well as my master's degree in nutrition science. I completed my dietetic internship at Cal State Long Beach as well. And I love my alma mater so much that I have since returned to teach undergraduate courses in nutrition. I practice medical nutrition therapy in the pediatric intensive care unit at Miller Children's and Women's Hospital Long Beach. As a clinical dietitian, I'm committed to providing my patients with high-quality nutrition care, to improve their well-being on their road to recovery. I became a dietitian because I love food and I love medicine. There is so much misinformation about nutrition in the media. My passion is to make nutrition simple and to make your health goals achievable. In my free time, I love soaking up the beauty at the beach, riding my bike, staying active, cooking, and, most of all, spending time with my family and friends!