As well as providing a baby with all the nutrients they need, breast milk can reduce the risk of babies getting certain infections. That’s one of the reasons why the World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of a baby’s life and continued breastfeeding up to 2 years of age or beyond alongside the introduction of nutritionally adequate and complementary solid foods.
If a breast-fed baby is diagnosed with cow’s milk allergy, it may be recommended by a healthcare professional that all dairy products are removed from the mother’s diet. This would avoid the cow’s milk proteins that trigger the allergic reactions being passed to the baby within breast milk. Find out more about the dietary changes that may be recommended for babies with cow’s milk allergy.
Hypoallergenic formulas for cow’s milk allergy
Some hypoallergenic formulas are suitable for babies with cow’s milk allergy. In these formulas, the cow’s milk proteins are either broken down (as in extensively hydrolysed formulas; eHFs) or aren’t present at all (as in amino acid-based formulas; AAFs). eHFs are suitable for most cases of cow’s milk allergy (mild to moderate cow’s milk allergy) and AAFs are usually recommended for more severe cases. Hypoallergenic formulas must only be used under the supervision of a healthcare professional.
Other milks, formulas and foods for special medical purposes are not always recommended or suitable as the first choice for babies with cow’s milk allergy
Standard infant formulas and follow-on formulas
Infant formulas and follow-on formulas are usually made from cow’s milk and contain intact cow’s milk proteins. Therefore, infant and follow-on formulas are not recommended for babies with cow’s milk allergy as they may trigger an allergic reaction.
Formulas and foods for special medical purposes that are partially hydrolysed
Some infant formulas, follow-on formulas and foods for special medical purposes (FSMPs) are partially hydrolysed. Even though the cow’s milk protein chains in these formulas are partially broken down (or hydrolysed), they’re still big enough to cause allergic reactions in babies with cow’s milk allergy. As a result, these formulas are unsuitable for the dietary management of babies with cow's milk allergy.
Cow, goat and sheep milks
Cow’s milk is not recommended for babies with cow’s milk allergy as it contains the proteins that trigger an allergic reaction. Goat, sheep and other unmodified animal milks are also not recommended for babies with cow’s milk allergy because the protein in these milks is very similar to the protein found in cow's milk. This means they may trigger an allergic reaction in babies with cow’s milk allergy.
Guidelines do not generally recommend the use of soya formulas for babies with cow’s milk allergy who are less than 6 months of age . However, they may be suitable in certain situations if recommended by a healthcare professional.