What is Cow's Milk Allergy?

Cow’s milk allergy is the most common type of food allergy in infants, affecting around 2–3% of infants. 

Cow's Milk Allergy

Cow’s milk allergy, or dairy allergy, is the most common type of food allergy in infants in the United States. It happens when the immune system mistakenly identifies a usually harmless protein within the cow’s milk as harmful and triggers an allergic reaction. This leads to symptoms that 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.

Symptoms of Cow's Milk Allergy

Cow’s milk allergy has a wide range of signs and symptoms, which may include:

  • Colic
  • Skin reactions (red itchy rash, swelling of the lips, face and around the eyes, or eczema)
  • Digestive problems (abdominal pain, vomiting or diarrhea)
  • Hay fever-like symptoms (sneezing or itchy, runny or blocked nose)

About Allergies

An allergic reaction happens because the immune system mistakes the proteins in cow’s milk to be a threat, when they should be harmless. Baby’s immune system then releases histamines and other chemicals that trigger the signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction.

If your baby has cow’s milk allergy, you are not alone.  Cow’s milk allergy is the most common type of food allergy in infants, affecting around 2–3% of 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.

Does My Baby Have CMA?

It’s not always easy to tell if your baby has cow’s milk allergy, as the symptoms 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. 

Managing CMA

If your baby has cow’s milk allergy, you’ll need to eliminate cow’s milk protein from their diet, so their symptoms 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. 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 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. It’s a good idea to ask your supermarket for a list of their milk-free foods. Don’t just rely on allergy advice labels, but always read the full ingredients lists. Manufacturers often change their recipes, so check the ingredients every time.

Want more information about food’s containing cow’s milk protein? Read More > 

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.