What Is CMA or Cow's Milk Allergy?
You might see the acronym CMA or CMPA tossed around often and wonder: “What is CMA?” CMA, or cow’s milk allergy, is the most common type of food allergy in infants, affecting about 2–3% of infants. CMPA is another way to say cow’s milk allergy. The ‘P’ in CMPA stands for protein because it is the protein in cow’s milk that is linked to the allergy.
Cow's Milk Allergy
Cow’s milk allergy in infants, or dairy allergy, is the most common type of infant food allergy in the United States. It happens when the immune system mistakenly identifies a usually harmless protein within cow’s milk as harmful and triggers an allergic response. The associated issues can either occur immediately (within minutes) or be delayed for up to a few days after consuming dairy or foods containing cow’s milk protein.
Signs of Cow's Milk Allergy
Cow’s milk allergies have a wide range of signs and symptoms, which may include:
- Colic – Episodes of crying for more than 3 hours a day, for more than 3 days a week, for 3 weeks, in an otherwise healthy child.
- Skin reactions - Red itchy rash, swelling of the lips, face and around the eyes, or eczema.
- Digestive issues - Abdominal pain, vomiting or diarrhea.
- Hay fever-like issues - Sneezing or itchy, runny or blocked nose.
It’s not always easy to tell if your baby has cow’s milk allergy, as the issues they experience might not be that clear or they could be caused by other things. If you think your baby might be allergic to cow’s milk protein, speak to your doctor, who may investigate further or refer your baby to a specialist.
Occurrence of Cow’s Milk Allergy in Infants
Cow’s milk allergy usually develops within baby’s first year. Most will grow out of it as they get older, on average by three to five years of age.
Experts aren’t sure why some babies become allergic to cow’s milk. What they do know is that your baby has a higher risk of cow’s milk allergy if there’s a family history of allergies, such as asthma, eczema or a food allergy.
Now that you’ve answered the question of “What is CMA?,” and your doctor has told you that your baby has a cow’s milk allergy, they will advise you of how to eliminate cow’s milk protein from their diet so their issues improve.
- If you’re breastfeeding, this may mean eliminating cow’s milk protein or dairy products from your own diet, as this could be passed to your baby through your breast milk. Always consult your doctor or healthcare professional before removing major food groups such as dairy from your diet.
- If you’re bottle feeding, you’ll need to switch your baby onto a special hypoallergenic baby formula designed for infants with cow’s milk allergy like Nutramigen. It’s important that you only put your baby onto a dairy-free diet under the advice and supervision of a healthcare professional.
Which Foods Contain Cow's Milk Protein?
There are some obvious sources of cow’s milk protein such as cow’s milk products like milk, cheese, butter and ice cream. However, cow’s milk protein can also be “hidden” in a large number of foods, including bread, cookies, cakes, ready-made baby foods and processed meats, so be sure to always read food labels carefully.
Are Babies With Cow’s Milk Allergy Allergic to Other Foods, Too?
Babies with cow’s milk allergy could be allergic to goat’s and sheep’s milk, as the proteins in these milks are similar to each other. These milks are not recommended for babies who are allergic to cow’s milk protein.
Babies with cow’s milk allergy might also be allergic to other non-dairy foods like egg, peanut, tree nuts, soy, wheat, shellfish and fish. If your baby is allergic to cow’s milk protein, be sure to speak to your healthcare professional before introducing them to these foods.