Cow’s milk allergy affects between 2% and 6.5% of children. Most children (75-90%) grow out of cow’s milk allergy by the time they are 5-6 years old.
Symptoms of cow’s milk allergy in children can include:
- Abdominal cramps
- Respiratory problems
- Gastro-oesophageal reflux
- Hypotension (low blood pressure)
Types of Cow’s Milk Allergy
There are two main types of cow’s milk allergy; the first type is called IgE allergy and symptoms turn up very quickly. In this case it is urticaria, swelling and airway problems. The second type of allergy is called non-IgE and this tends to take longer to show up. You are more likely to see tummy problems and skin problems with this type of allergy.
How do we test for cow’s milk allergy?
Always go to your GP to get allergy tests, especially for babies and children. A test called a ‘specific IgE’ for milk can be done or skin prick tests that test for cow’s milk allergy. This type of test will only show IgE-type allergies. For other types of cow’s milk allergy, you will need to see a qualified dietitian for an exclusion diet. It is very important for babies and children to see a qualified paediatric dietitian (a member of the INDI) to exclude milk. Milk is a very important food for babies and young children and removing milk from a child’s diet is a major decision with serious nutritional consequences. Milk must be replaced with a nutritional equivalent – this is especially important for babies on formula milk. A hydrolysed milk is needed and your dietitian will be able to advise you on where to get this milk and how to use it.
Lactose-free formula will not help with cow’s milk allergy as it will still contain cow’s milk protein. It is not recommended that you use other milks or formulas such as goat's, sheep’s, camel’s etc. Plant-based milks such as soy, rice, oat or almond, are also not recommended. Many of these do not contain the nutrients that babies and children need and some may cause cross-reactions. Always get advice from your dietitian before choosing a different milk for your baby or child.
If babies with a cow’s milk allergy are breastfed, then mum needs to cut out cow’s milk from her diet. Again, this needs to be supervised by a dietitian to make sure mum is still getting all of the calcium and other nutrients she needs for her baby and to help her with hidden sources of cow’s milk protein in food.