There are different proteins in cows’ milk, any one of which can trigger an allergic reaction from the immune system of a baby that is susceptible. If there is a family history of allergy, it is more likely that your baby can develop an allergy, but not always.
The positive news is that most young children will grow out of cows’ milk protein symptoms by 3 years of age
It is estimated that cows’ milk protein allergy affects between 2-7.5 % of babies (although between 5-15% can show symptoms that they cannot tolerate the protein in cows’ milk). The positive news is that most young children will grow out of cows’ milk protein symptoms by 3 years of age, with half of babies outgrowing their allergy by the time they reach their first birthday.
Symptoms of cows’ milk protein allergy can range from being mild, moderate or severe:
Most frequent mild to moderate symptoms a baby could experience would include either one or more of the following: regurgitation, vomiting, diarrhoea, constipation, bloody stools, eczema, bad cough, wheezing or even extreme colicky symptoms.
A baby with severe cows’ milk protein allergy would require immediate medical attention. They would have difficulty gaining weight. They could also experience anaemia (very low iron stores), severe eczema or a most severe allergic reaction, anaphylaxis – which is extremely serious and can be life threatening.
Anaphylaxis occurs when your baby’s immune system reacts in a very negative way to an allergen. The reaction is immediate, developing within minutes. The immune system releases large amounts of chemicals such as histamine when it is in contact with the allergen which causes the shock. If you see symptoms develop quickly, such as swelling of the lip, skin or face, wheezing and rapid pulse, call emergency services (999) as quickly as possible. If your doctor has already provided you with an emergency plan, follow it by giving the necessary medication.
It is important that you seek medical advice if your baby has any of these symptoms. There is a lower incidence of cows’ milk protein allergy in babies that have been exclusively breastfeeding. Breastfeeding mums are advised not to take any milk and milk containing products in their own diet in order to see symptoms improve after a short time.
Bottlefed babies will need to move to a more specialised formula, that has been developed specially to break down the cows’ milk protein so as babies with this allergy can digest it more easily. Extensively hydrolysed formulas are recommended as a first line treatment for mild or moderate symptoms and must be used under medical supervision. Your doctor or pharmacist will advise.
The protein in Aptamil Pepti has been extensively hydrolysed for the dietary management of cows’ milk protein.
Many foods are naturally milk free such as plain meat, fish, eggs, fruit, vegetables and grains. Obvious dairy foods include milk, cheese, yogurt, cream and ice cream. However, milk is often present in unexpected places in manufactured foods including some breads, breakfast cereals, crisps, processed meat and fish products and in many of the foods sold in supermarkets.
By law, all food products for sale in the EU in a pre-packaged format have to clearly label whether it contains any of the following sources of cows milk:
- Butter, butter oil, buttermilk
- Casein, caseinates, hysrolysed casein, sodium caseinates, magenesium caseinates
- Cheese, cream cheese
- (Cows’) Milk (fresh, UHT, evaporated, condensed, dried)
- Cream, sour cream
- Milk solids
- Whey, hydrolysed whey, whey powder, whey syrup, whey syrup sweetener
- Yogurt, fromage frais
The advice is to check the labels. Some foods are exempt from these food labelling laws including foods sold loose such as bakery, delicatessen or butcher items. These foods are not suitable for your baby with cows’ milk allergy as they may contain a hidden source of milk.