What does it mean for my baby growing up?

If your child is allergic to cow’s milk protein, knowing what to expect and how to manage the food allergy at each stage of their development is key. Here’s what you can expect at each stage. 

From birth to diagnosis

“If your baby’s sick all the time and very colicky, take them to the doctor as soon as you think there may be a problem.”

Mum of a child with CMA1

If you’ve noticed symptoms in your baby such as colic, skin reactions and frequent tummy upsets, it’s important to speak to your GP about your concerns. 

To pinpoint the right diagnosis, they will discuss your baby’s behaviour with you in detail. If cow’s milk allergy is suspected, they may carry out a few tests to confirm this. These could include a skin prick and/or blood test, or an elimination diet followed by a food challenge. 

If the diagnosis process shows that your baby has cow’s milk allergy, you’ll finally have an explanation for their symptoms and can start to make some changes for the better.

After diagnosis and before weaning

“As soon as I told the paediatrician my daughter's symptoms, he told me she had a cow's milk protein allergy."

Alice Williams, Holyhead

Once your baby has been diagnosed with cow’s milk allergy, your doctor will advise you to make some changes to their diet and eliminate cow’s milk protein to prevent further allergic reactions.

Which foods contain cow’s milk protein?

This will mean either continuing to breastfeed whilst removing all food and drink that contains cow’s milk protein from your own diet, or feeding your formula-fed baby with a special hypoallergenic baby formula for cow’s milk allergy that doesn’t contain whole cow’s milk protein.

Cow’s milk protein can be present not only in dairy products but also be included in a surprisingly wide variety of foods that will also need to be eliminated – including some that you might not immediately associate with a dairy product. As always, follow the advice of your healthcare professional.

Stage 1 hypoallergenic formulas designed for babies with cow’s milk allergy are suitable for babies from birth until 6 months of age and are nutritionally complete, providing all the nutrients that your growing baby needs. 

Weaning and beyond

The Department of Health recommends that weaning should start around 6 months of age, and experts agree that it shouldn’t start any earlier than 4 months of age.

“Always read food labels… it’s surprising what foods milk is in.”

Mum of a child with CMA1

Speak to your doctor before you start weaning your infant, as you may be advised to see a dietitian to help you through this process. You’ll need to avoid all cow’s milk protein.

As you start weaning, it’s a good idea to add breast milk or hypoallergenic formula designed for babies with cow’s milk allergy to your infant’s solid foods to increase their nutritional value unless your healthcare professional has told you otherwise.

Some hypoallergenic formulas designed for babies with cow’s milk allergy have a second-stage formula for infants that’s specifically formulated for babies who are older than 6 months, i.e. from weaning onwards, as they contain nutrients that growing babies need, like extra calcium, as part of a varied diet.

Food challenge

When your toddler has been on a cow’s milk protein-free diet for some time and is at least 9–12 months old, your doctor may request an oral food challenge to see if they have grown out of the cow’s milk allergy. This is the same as the food challenge done at diagnosis.

Growing up and starting school

After 6 months infant formulas based on soya “milk” should only be used if recommended by a healthcare professional if your child does NOT also have a soya protein allergy (i.e. if he or she has tested negative for soya allergy) or if other alternatives have proved unsuccessful or if you want a formula suitable for vegans after discussion with your family doctor or a specialist.

Rice “milk” is not advised before the age of 4½ years. Ready-made soya, pea, oat, coconut or other milk substitutes may be used as a main drink after 2 years of age, but the choice may depend on your child’s nutritional status. Try to always choose a brand that is fortified with calcium where possible. Note: organic products do not always have added calcium. If the product is not fortified with calcium, it is likely that a calcium substitute will be required. There’s more information on choosing suitable milks for children with cow’s milk allergy from the British Dietetic Association.

The good news is that most infants will grow out of their cow’s milk allergy, on average by the time they’re around 3–5 years old.

“It may not be the end of eating normally. My son eventually outgrew most aspects of it and can now eat dairy.”

Mum of a child with CMA1

For those who continue to have this food allergy, it’s important to speak to the teachers at school, so they can help to ensure that your child avoids cow’s milk protein-containing products at school. Take a look at the advice from the charity Allergy UK for more information.