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What Are the Symptoms of Cow’s Milk Allergy in Babies?

What Are the Symptoms of Cow’s Milk Allergy in Babies?

It's hard being a mom to a baby who is fussy and cries a lot – that’s why we’re breaking down the symptoms to help you understand if it’s just temperament or a potential allergy.

Trusting your intuition is always a good idea, and so is seeing your pediatrician any time that you are concerned about your baby's well-being. If you think your baby might be showing signs and symptoms of cow’s milk allergy, make an appointment to see your baby’s doctor. They can help you figure out what's going on and support you to ensure your little one stays healthy and happy.

Cow’s milk allergy is a common childhood food allergy, and infants who have it may have different experiences after consuming the protein found in cow's milk.

Below are some of the symptoms of cow’s milk allergy. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns about any of these issues in your baby.

  • Nausea or Vomiting
    Babies could feel sick or might projectile vomit.
  • Reflux
    Most babies experience some degree of reflux (or spit-up). But some babies have more severe reflux problems. They may frequently spit up lots of liquid, forcefully vomit, choke or gag, arch away from the bottle or breast, seem irritable during or after feedings, or have trouble putting on weight.
  • Diarrhea
    Breastfed babies typically have runny, seedy poops. Poop of formula-fed infants tends to be a little thicker. If your baby has diarrhea, you will notice frequent watery, foul-smelling loose poops. Babies who have diarrhea may become dehydrated, so you should call your doctor.
  • Unusual Poops
    In addition to diarrhea, there could also be blood and/or mucus in their poop. It’s important to speak to your doctor if your baby experiences this issue.
  • Gassiness
    Gas may make a baby's stomach look bloated or feel hard or tense. They may pull up their legs or lock them out straight, clench their fists, and pass gas.
  • Constipation
    A baby's poops might look like little rabbit pellets or a hard ball. Don't judge whether a baby is constipated by how frequently they have a bowel movement. Some healthy infants may go several days without one.
  • Hay Fever-like Symptoms
    Sneezing and an itchy, runny or blocked nose.
  • Breathing Difficulties or Wheezing
    A chronic cough, persistent runny nose and raspy, wheezy breathing should be discussed with your baby’s doctor.
  • Anaphylyaxis
    Anaphylaxis (anaphylactic shock) is the most serious possible allergic manifestation – it comes on quickly, affects the whole body and is potentially life-threatening. Indications include breathing difficulties, becoming faint, skin irritation and swelling - especially of the face. Fortunately, this type of allergic reaction is uncommon in infants. If you suspect anaphylaxis, call 911 immediately.
  • Colic
    A lot of fussiness and/or crying even though they aren’t hungry, tired or in need of a diaper change, could be indications of colic. Colic tends to follow a pattern of threes: crying for more than 3 hours per day (usually in the evening), for more than 3 days per week, and for more than 3 weeks. Colic often improves by the third or fourth month of age.
  • Itchy Rash
    Tiny red bumps on your baby's face, scalp, hands or feet. The bumps may itch, ooze and crust over, or feel like dry, scaly skin.

Preparing to See Your Doctor

Any number of things could be causing your baby's behaviors, which is why it's important to see your pediatrician. To prepare for your visit:

  • Start keeping a diary of any issues your baby is experiencing by using our diary.
    • Note whether they flare up during or after feeds or at certain times of day.
    • Keep track of symptoms over 1–2 weeks.
  • Track which foods your baby’s consuming – whether it’s breast milk, formula or solids.
    • Note if your baby gets upset when you try to nurse or offer a bottle, or whether they seem uninterested in eating even when you know they’re hungry.

Bring this diary to your baby’s doctor appointment to discuss your concerns together.

Cow’s Milk Allergy Management

If your doctor suspects cow's milk allergy, they may suggest eliminating cow's milk protein from your baby’s diet. This isn't as daunting as it might sound.

  • For Breastfed Babies
    Breastfed babies can be exposed to cow's milk protein fragments passed in breast milk when their mothers eat dairy products. Breast milk still provides the best nutrition for your baby, so you shouldn't stop nursing. You should not remove dairy foods from your diet without speaking to your doctor.
  • For Formula-Fed Babies
    Switching to a formula that is hypoallergenic (meaning it has been specially designed for babies with cow's milk allergy) may help. The majority of babies with cow's milk allergy feel better after a switch to an extensively hydrolyzed, hypoallergenic formula like Nutramigen. In fact, some cow’s milk allergy symptoms like colic may stop within 48 hours* after a formula change. Talk to your doctor to see if this is the option for you.

As your baby gets older, your doctor may suggest you start reintroducing your child to foods made with cow's milk. This should always be done carefully and under a doctor's supervision. More than 75 percent of children outgrow cow's milk allergy by the time they are five years old. So, you may not be facing a lifetime of saying no to your child's pleas for ice cream and mac and cheese. In the meantime, there are other ways you can manage CMA and the symptoms associated.