One of the most disheartening situations that parents have to go through is managing their child’s milk allergies.
A milk allergy is an allergy to certain proteins in milk. The two allergenic milk proteins are casein (curd that forms when milk is left to go sour) and whey (the liquid fraction left after the curd is removed).
In infants and children, a dairy allergy, or an allergy to cow’s milk, is the most common because it is the basis of most commercial baby formulas. Most babies who are allergic to cow’s milk also react to milk proteins obtained from goats, sheep, and even soy.
Formula fed babies are more susceptible to developing a milk allergy than breast fed babies because cow’s milk is the basis of most commercial baby formulas. For infants, it will be the first time for their bodies to encounter a foreign milk protein, and a baby’s immune system is not built to recognize milk proteins that were genetically designed for cows. It mistakenly sees the milk protein as a dangerous substance, and fighting it off causes an allergic reaction.
In breast fed infants, milk allergies are still possible because small amounts of milk proteins can pass through breast milk, enough to cause milk allergies. If this happens, the mother must stop eating dairy products, take a calcium replacement, and continue breastfeeding under a dietician’s supervision.
A milk allergy, however, is different from lactose intolerance. A milk allergy is an immune system reaction, while lactose intolerance is the inability to digest the sugar lactose found in milk. Lactose intolerance is rare in infants, but is more common among older kids and adults.
Does your baby have a milk allergy?
Cow’s milk allergy symptoms manifest in infancy. Reactions can occur right after feeding, or sometimes they are delayed by 7 to 10 days. The latter, known as a slower-onset reaction, is more common. You will notice irritability, fuzziness, indicative of colic. After a few days, your baby may be excreting loose stools that may contain blood. Symptoms may also include vomiting, gagging, refusal to feed, and appearance of skin rashes. This type of reaction is difficult to diagnose because the symptoms are quite common, even for other pediatric health conditions.
The other type is a rapid-onset reaction that comes on suddenly causing vomiting, wheezing, irritability, swelling, hives, itchy bumps on the skin, and bloody diarrhea. In very rare cases, babies can experience a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis that can affect the baby’s skin, stomach, blood pressure, and breathing.
What are the best ways to manage a milk allergy?
If your baby is reacting to his or her current formula, your doctor may advise you to switch to a soy protein-based formula. But if your baby still cannot tolerate soy, a hypoallergenic formula may be the solution. Hypoallergenic formulas have the milk proteins already broken down into particles so that your baby is less likely to develop allergic reactions. There are two types: the extensively hydrolyzed formulas that have the cow’s milk proteins broken down into small particles, and the amino acid-based formulas, which contain protein in it simplest form. The symptoms of the allergy should go away within a month, and your doctor will recommend extending usage of the hypoallergenic formula until your baby is a year old. Your doctor will gradually attempt to reintroduced cow’s milk into your child’s diet.
Children usually outgrow their milk allergy between the ages of 3 to 5 years old. But some children never outgrow it, and carry on their milk allergy until they are adults.