4-6 months

PLAYING: Infant Milk Allergy

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Infant Milk Allergy

Cow's milk allergy is a common food allergy in childhood, impacting approximately 1 to 2% of preschool children. Fortunately, the majority of children outgrow this allergy by the age of 3 to 5 years, with less than 0.1% of school-age children affected.  

4 mins to read Apr 4, 2024

What is Cow’s Milk allergy?

There are a number of common allergens that cause an allergic reaction in childhood.  Having an allergic reaction to cow’s milk is one of the most common in Australian children, but there is often confusion whether the child’s reactions are due to an allergy or intolerance, as many of the symptoms can be the same. This is why it’s so important to seek medical advice as soon as possible when your child has an adverse or allergic reaction to cow’s milk. Getting the right treatment is important. 

If your child has a severe reaction, seek immediate medical attention.

What is the difference?

  1. Cow’s milk allergy occurs when the immune system reacts to the protein found in cow’s milk. Around 2% of Australian infants are allergic to cow’s milk and dairy products, and while most will grow out of it by school age, some may have it for life. 
  2. Cow’s milk intolerance on the other hand is not an immune response, it’s a reaction to the sugar in milk (lactose). This is often referred to as Lactose Intolerance.

It is sometimes not easy to recognise the difference between an allergy or intolerance as the signs vary and may be confused with other conditions. It’s important to always get a medical diagnosis.


What are some infant milk allergy symptoms?

Cow’s milk protein allergy can result in immediate (within 15 minutes) or delayed (after about 2 hours) reactions and range from mild to severe.  Some of the symptoms may include:

  • Skin: hives, eczema, redness or paleness in the face, oedema (swelling), infant milk rash;
  • Digestive: regurgitation, vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach pain;
  • Respiratory: wheezy cough, asthma, difficulty breathing. Seek immediate medical attention if your child is experiencing any respiratory symptoms or if you are concerned about your baby’s symptoms.


How is cow’s milk allergy diagnosed?

Cow's milk allergy in babies is typically diagnosed through a combination of medical history, physical examination, and diagnostic tests performed by your doctor, paediatrician or allergist. Your doctor or paediatrician will review your baby's symptoms and may recommend eliminating cow's milk and dairy products from your baby's diet to see if the symptoms improve. If there is a suspected allergy, further tests such as skin prick tests or blood tests may be conducted to confirm the diagnosis, this is usually performed by a paediatrician. In some cases, an oral food challenge may be performed under specialist medical supervision to determine if your baby has a true allergy to cow's milk. 


Management of cow’s milk allergy may include:

  • Removing all cow’s milk and dairy from your child’s diet, if your child is already on solids. Speak to your healthcare professional about adequate calcium intake in your child’s diet. If you are breastfeeding, it is important to continue where possible.
  • Reviewing a breastfeeding Mum’s diet. In some cases, a mum might be advised to limit or exclude intake of dairy from her diet as small amounts of dairy protein may pass through the breast milk, but this is not common or a first line of action.
  • Reviewing the formula being fed to baby. If your baby is formula fed, a paediatric allergist will advise you on which formula is best for your baby. They may prescribe an extensively hydrolysed-protein formula, or an amino acid formula. The protein in these formulas are broken down to a size where the immune system no longer over-reacts to it. These special formulas are no less nutrient-rich than your baby’s previous milk formula and will contribute just as effectively to your baby’s growth. Other alternative formulas include soy, and rice infant formulas.

Your doctor will determine the most appropriate feeding plan for your infant.



How to tell if the baby has cow's milk allergy?

If you suspect your baby has a cow’s milk allergy, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and guidance. Cow’s milk allergy has a range of symptoms ranging from mild to severe and may include skin reactions like hives or eczema, digestive issues such as vomiting or diarrhoea, and respiratory problems like wheezing or difficulty breathing. Cow's milk allergy can result in immediate or delayed reactions after consuming cow's milk or dairy products. It is crucial to seek medical advice for proper diagnosis and management of cow's milk allergy in babies.

What causes cow milk allergy in babies?

Cow's milk allergy in babies is caused by an immune system reaction to the protein found in cow's milk. This allergic reaction occurs when the immune system mistakenly identifies the proteins in cow's milk as harmful substances and releases chemicals to fight against them. Around 2% of Australian infants are allergic to cow's milk and dairy products.