What is a Cow's Milk Protein Allergy and how does it affect little ones?

What should I do if I think my baby has a cow’s milk protein allergy?

If you’ve been told that your little one has an allergy to cow’s milk protein, this means that their immune system reacts to the type of protein found in milk. After drinking or eating anything containing dairy or milk protein, they might experience swelling of the lips, face or eyes, start producing hives and welts, or start wheezing. It is important to seek medical advice as soon as these symptoms occur. Other symptoms, although not all as common, include eczema or diarrhoea, poor weight gain, reflux or vomiting. 

Luckily a cow’s milk protein allergy is relatively easy for a healthcare professional to diagnose and treat – the first step is for you to take your little one to your family doctor or GP who will be able to determine if tests need to be done, taking into account physical symptoms and any medical history. If they do suspect an allergy to cow’s milk protein, next steps may be as simple as a skin prick or blood test or – in the case of an oral food challenge – require slightly more expertise. The good news is that it’s not too invasive to find out, but if you suspect they might be allergic to dairy – just make sure you get a proper diagnosis from your family doctor.

What does having a cow’s milk protein allergy mean for my baby?

Unfortunately, as all milk and dairy products contain some level of milk protein, if your little one has a confirmed allergy to cow’s milk protein, they will need to strictly avoid anything that contains dairy or milk proteins. This includes milk, cheese, yoghurt, ice cream and other foods where milk powder or dairy products may have been added as ingredients. While this may sound a bit scary, the good news is that while cow’s milk protein is one of the most common causes of food allergy in infants, around 8 in 10 children will grow out of their cow’s milk allergy by the age of 3-5 years.

It is important that your GP refers your little one to a registered dietitian who can advise you on a dairy-free diet and alternatives. Once diagnosed with a cow’s milk protein allergy – if your little one is formula fed, they will require an alternative formula to a cow’s milk based formula. Discover more about what different formulas may be suitable for little ones with a cow’s milk protein allergy.