8 Signs of a Milk Allergy

Posted 11.23.10 | Rob McCandlish, RDN

A friend told me she went to an office Halloween party as a peanut allergy. I wondered: What would you wear that says, “I am an allergy?” I still don’t know the answer to that question! Thinking about that made me wonder: Since babies don’t come with labels and can’t tell us what they experience, how do they tell us “I have an allergy?

More and more, children are diagnosed with food allergies, with cow’s milk allergy being the most common. In fact, more than 100,000 babies each year suffer from milk allergy. There are multiple clues pediatricians look for that help diagnose a cow’s milk allergy that you can look for too. Below is a list of eight questions to help parents of infants identify a potential milk allergy, designed by Dr. John Moissidis, a Board certified pediatric allergist at The Asthma Allergy Clinic in Shreveport, La.

Milk Allergy Symptoms

1. Diarrhea Diarrhea is common in babies, but if it is persistent (an average of two to four times a day for more than five to seven days) and/or if there is blood or mucous in the stool, it could signal a more serious milk allergy.

2. Vomiting Babies often spit up bits of food, but vomiting beyond the typical mealtime regurgitation should be examined by a doctor. Reflux symptoms, such as spit-up and difficulty swallowing, can also be milk allergy symptoms.

3. Skin Rash There are many causes for infant skin rashes like eczema. Milk allergy is one possible cause, especially if the rash occurs along with some of these other symptoms.

4. Extreme Fussiness Every baby cries, but crying continuously and inconsolably for long periods of time is abnormal. When there is no apparent reason, this is usually called colic. Sometimes this extreme fussiness is actually caused by the gastrointestinal pain resulting from an allergy to the proteins found in milk.

5. Low or No Weight Gain Most infants double their weight by six months and triple it by 12 months. But when babies are not getting the nutrition they need because of excessive diarrhea and vomiting, they are unable to grow like they should.

6. Gassiness All babies have gas, but when it occurs along with several of these other symptoms, it can also signal an allergy to milk proteins.

7. Respiratory Problems Colds are common for infants, but wheezing, struggling to breathe and developing excess mucus in the nose and throat is not. For some kids, these respiratory problems can be the baby’s reaction to the protein found in milk.

8. Failure to Thrive Babies with milk allergy often suffer from a lack of proper nutrition characterized by dehydration, loss of appetite and lack of energy. This overall failure to thrive is often the result of the effect the other symptoms have on the infant’s body.

My baby has one or more of these symptoms – what now?

Babies with an allergy to cow’s milk protein cannot process the complex proteins found in milk-based baby formula, and many babies also react to soy-based infant formulas. Because of this, infant milk allergy is treated by either eliminating the milk proteins from the nursing mother’s diet or by replacing the regular formula with an amino acid-based formula.

An amino acid-based formula is safe for babies with milk and soy allergies because it is made using amino acids, the building blocks of protein. Amino acids are small enough that they won’t cause an allergic reaction in the way that complete protein chains or partly broken down proteins found in other formulas will.

The next step should be to schedule an appointment with your child’s pediatrician in order to receive a more thorough evaluation and diagnosis. Bring this information with you and ask your doctor if your baby might benefit from an amino acid-based formula.

What symptoms did your baby have that led you to suspect a milk allergy?

- Rob

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Read Comments (3)

  • 2016-08-23 | Kayleigh

    Suspected milk allergy in my baby at 4 weeks. Ive been supplementing with formula. Switched to soy formula, and I have been cow milk free for about 2 weeks, his symptoms have been getting better, but the last few days his symptoms are returning…. reflux with stridor, severe gas and pains, crying for no reason, rash that he scratches on his face. Does this sound like he is also allergic to soy now?

  • 2016-08-24 | Nutrition Specialist

    Hi Kayleigh,
      What you’re describing do sound like possible signs and symptoms of a soy allergy. However, you should check with your little guy’s healthcare team to be sure. For infants diagnosed with a cow milk allergy, a soy-based formula is not recommended because many infants with cow milk allergy have also been found allergic to soy. The recommendations call for a hypoallergenic formula instead.
      Best of luck!

  • 2016-09-17 | Caroline Taylor

    We’ve been through one kid with soy and milk protein allergy so we knew what to look out for when our daughter was born 6 weeks ago. The only thing she had that my son didn’t was a rash that didn’t start going away until I eliminated milk protein from my diet. She also had the small brown flecks in her poo which we knew to be blood from irritation. One week of no dairy and she is sleeping better at night, her rash is clearing up, she feeds longer and has had little to no gas. No soy for us since my son is still allergic but we don’t dare try to see if she is or not. I wondering if goat’s milk is safe for me to try in a few months.

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Food Allergy Living is a resource for parents of children with food allergies, brought to you by Nutricia, the makers of Neocate. For more in-depth information about our purpose & authors, see our About Food Allergy Living page.