Milk is the most common food allergy for children and it affects 2 to 7 percent of babies. Your newborns may be taking in milk protein through your breastmilk whenever you drink or eat dairy products or through a milk-based formula. Sometimes a baby’s immune system reacts to the proteins in milk because their digestive systems are immature and their nervous systems aren’t used to the new world around them. If your baby is allergic to milk, the reaction after drinking or eating something with a dairy ingredient should be immediate but sometimes there are also delayed allergic reactions. .
It can be tricky to find out whether your baby is having a delayed allergic reaction, because some parts of the immune system take longer to respond. Also, the symptoms of milk allergies are similar to those of when a baby has colic. The definition of colic is the “Rule of 3’s”. It is when an infant cries for more than 3 hours a day, for more than 3 days a week, for over 3 weeks. Doctors aren’t really sure what causes colic, but they think that colicky babies just may be more sensitive.
The following is a list of symptoms for milk allergies:
- Frequent spitting up;
- Signs of abdominal pain, or colic-like symptoms, such as excessive crying and irritability (especially after feedings);
- Blood in stool;
- Lack of weight gain;
- A scaly skin rash;
- Coughing or wheezing;
- Watery eyes and stuffy nose; and/or
- Trouble breathing and swelling (especially of mouth and throat) or even anaphylaxis (which is a life-threatening allergic reaction).
If your baby has symptoms of milk allergies, you should see your doctor before eliminating milk products. Your doctor will examine your child, ask questions about your family’s history of allergies, and may perform a skin-prick test. If your doctor suspects it is a milk allergy, it is likely he will suggest cutting out milk from your diet (if you’re breastfeeding) or having you switch to a different formula. You should see a change in approximately a week. Because many babies with milk allergies are also allergic to soy, your doctor may suggest a hydrolysate formula, in which the milk proteins are partly broken down, so it’s less likely to cause an allergic reaction.
Rest assured that your baby will likely out-grow his milk allergy. If your child has a delayed allergic reaction to milk, she will probably outgrow it by the time she’s three years old. If she has an immediate allergic reaction, the allergy may last into her teenage years. The good news is that milk allergies are uncommon in adults, with less than one per cent being affected.