How To Manage Cow’s Milk Allergy In Babies

Does your baby have a cow’s milk allergy? 

A cow’s milk allergy is a common allergy in babies as little as a few months and can last until the age of 3-5 years.

The allergy is often recognized early in exclusively formula fed babies since cow’s milk is their main drink. 

If you are breastfeeding, symptoms will show if you drink or eat foods containing cow’s milk.

We will go over a list of those foods in a while.

As with other food allergies, babies can outgrow a milk allergy, although some do grow with the allergy into their adulthood. 

This guide will help you understand cow’s milk allergy, know the symptoms to look out for (both mild and serious), plus the foods you have to avoid AND what your baby can actually eat instead.

Related: Baby Food Allergies: How To Manage Them

What Happens When A Baby Is Allergic To Cow’s Milk?

When your baby drinks milk, their immune system mistakenly treats the protein in cow’s milk as an ‘intruder’ and fights it off, as it would a virus. 

How can you tell if your baby has cow’s milk allergy?

See how they react after they drink or eat anything that contains cow’s milk.

Check the symptoms below.

Symptoms Of Cow’s Milk Allergy In Babies

Hives On Baby Skin due to Cow's Milk Allergy

The following are signs of a cow’s milk allergy. Your baby might show one or more of all these symptoms.

  • Skin rash, hives, or raised bumps on the skin
  • Swelling of face and lips 
  • Red, teary eyes
  • Eczema
  • Constipation or diarrhea 
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach cramps

Symptoms can show while your baby is drinking cow’s milk, a few minutes or hours after feeding or even days after. 

Mostly, the symptoms are mild and the reaction can be managed at home. 

In some cases, cow’s milk protein allergy can cause a severe reaction that needs emergency medical attention.

Relate: Tips To Treat Baby Eczema Naturally (With No Harsh Chemicals)

Severe Symptoms 

Immediately take your baby to the emergency room if you see any of the following signs of severe allergic reaction to cow’s milk;

  • Difficulty in breathing 
  • Swelling of the mouth and throat or tongue
  • Unconsciousness 

Use an EpiPen if your baby shows signs of anaphylaxis and go straight to the emergency room.

Is Cow’s Milk Allergy The Same As Lactose Intolerance?

No. They are not.

Lactose intolerance happens when a baby’s system cannot digest the sugar in milk, lactose.

The symptoms are usually stomach-related. 

So you expect stomach cramps, vomiting, diarrhea, and bloating.

This is why it is important to consult a medical professional to make sure your baby does have a cow’s milk allergy before going ahead and changing their diet.

For example, symptoms of cow’s milk protein allergy include stomach pain, diarrhea, and vomiting. 

How would you know whether these are caused by lactose intolerance or a milk allergy?

A doctor is better suited to conduct all the necessary examinations and tests.

How To Test For A Milk Allergy

Your doctor may test your baby for cow’s milk allergy with a painless skin test. 

They take a swab with cow’s milk and rub it into your baby. 

If any allergy symptoms show (such as rash or hives, or swelling), then they know the allergy is there.

Your doctor may also order a blood test (Source).

Treatment Of Cow’s Milk Allergy In Babies

Here is what to do if your baby has cow’s milk allergy:

  • First establish that your baby does react negatively to cow’s milk protein
  • Take your baby to a doctor who will advice you better after doing the necessary examination and tests
  • Know which foods you have to avoid if your baby has a cow’s milk allergy
Choosing The Right Milk For Your Baby

Regular baby formula will not be suitable for your baby. 

You will need to start feeding your little one an extensively hydrolyzed baby formula.

The milk protein in an extensively hydrolyzed formula has been completely broken for an allergic baby’s stomach to process.

This kind of milk however, is not recommended for a baby who has had anaphylaxis after drinking cow’s milk. 

You can also use Soy Protein Formula although it is mostly suitable only once your baby is 6 months and older.

Another option is an Amino Acid-based Formula. Your baby can drink this type of milk if they react negatively to an extensively hydrolyzed formula..

Rice Protein-Based Formula can also be used as long as your baby does not have any medical condition that restricts them from eating rice.

Partially Hydrolyzed Formula and Goat’s Milk Formula or Sheep Milk Formula are not recommended for a baby with cow’s milk allergy. 

Please note that you should speak to a doctor for advice on using all of the above formula options.

Some of them might miss certain nutrients your baby would usually get from regular cow’s milk formula (like soy based formula for instance).

Related: How To Choose The Right Formula For Your Baby

Breastfeeding A Baby With Cow’s Milk Allergy   

Avoiding milk when breastfeeding a baby with Cow's Milk Allergy

Breastfeeding a baby with cow’s milk allergy means you, as a nursing mom, have to treat yourself as a person with the same allergy. 


Because your baby drinks what you eat. 

 If you eat anything containing cow’s milk, you will pass it onto your baby and trigger an unnecessary allergic reaction. 

Introducing Solids To A Baby With Milk Protein Allergy

When starting your baby on solids, you will have to be careful to not include foods with whole cow’s milk in their diet.

Stay clear of baby cereals that already contain milk and all you have to do is add water. 

Here are foods to cut out when your baby suffers from cow’s milk allergy

  • Baby Cereals
  • Yogurt 
  • Cheese
  • Baked goods
  • Butter
  • Ice cream
  • White sauces containing milk
  • Cream
  • Caramel sauce

Foods to give your baby with a milk protein allergy

  • Calcium-rich foods to compensate for the lack of calcium from cow’s milk such as broccoli and spinach.
  • Other types of milk such as soy milk, almond milk, rice milk, and coconut milk 
  • Dairy-free ice cream, cheese, and baked goods

Only start giving your baby cow’s milk once they have outgrown the allergy.

Related: Foods To Totally Avoid For Babies Under 1 Year

How Will You Know If Your Baby Has Outgrown The Allergy?

Again, your doctor can help.

They can conduct allergy tests every now and then to check if your baby is still allergic. 

If your baby does not show any symptoms, your doctor will advise you on how to introduce whole milk products into your baby’s diet.

The trick is to start small and increase the amount with time.

Managing Baby Allergies

Raising a baby all the way from the newborn stage is tough. 

Waking up countless times during the night, Not getting enough sleep, and changing diapers.

All that plus common baby ailments your little one might get such as fever, colic, eczema, and nappy rash,etc.

Plus always having to be a step ahead with knowing what your baby needs.

Add cow’s milk allergy or any other food allergies to the mix and you could have your head spinning. 

There is no need to worry, the condition can be managed.

All you have to do is know the symptoms and notify your doctor when you see a reaction and learn which formula milk is actually suitable for your baby, plus which foods you have to avoid if you are breastfeeding. 

Always keep an eye when your baby is around others. 

People love giving babies food and your baby might just end up eating yogurt without you knowing.

Always supervise a child with allergies and inform others caring for your baby of what foods to avoid.

How To Manage Cow's Milk Allergy In Babies
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