3 important facts you should know about cow’s milk allergies in babies

Does your baby have a cow’s milk allergy? Here’s why it’s important to diagnose and manage it.


Speaking at the recent annual congress of the Allergy Society of South Africa (ALLSA) in Port Elizabeth, allergy specialist at the Rosebank Allergy Clinic in Johannesburg, Dr Marinda McDonald stressed that parents need to constantly monitor their babies who suffer from cow’s milk allergy.

Often when a child is diagnosed with cow’s milk allergy, parents simply avoid feeding milk or milk-based products throughout their entire childhood. However, Dr McDonald says that children can sometimes outgrow milk allergies. “Therefore, avoiding milk means that they are unnecessarily missing out on receiving milk proteins that are vital to their development.” This is why it is important to have regular check-ups with an allergy specialist.

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Undiagnosed milk allergies can be harmful to your baby’s health 

Undiagnosed milk allergies may be equally detrimental to a child’s development, says Dr McDonald. “There is, of course, the risk of a child experiencing anaphylaxis, which is potentially life threatening. There is also a condition known as non-IgE-mediated cow’s milk allergy, which presents symptoms such as an upset stomach, with or without blood in the stool, as well as severe eczema, colic and/or rhinitis. This is the most difficult to diagnose since the child’s blood tests often yield negative results. Left unchecked, this could lead to damage to the organs, such as the esophagus or liver.

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The importance of diagnosis 

“It is vital to have a child properly diagnosed by a trained medical professional,” says Fiona Mcguirk, product manager at Cipla. “A doctor takes factors such as family and feeding as well as previous treatment history into account. A blood test or a skin prick test is then performed, and based on the information gathered, a treatment plan is devised. A blood test without a good history, or a knowledgeable person interpreting it, is not adequate for the diagnosis of cow’s milk protein allergy.”

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Finding a substitute for cow’s milk

Dr McDonald adds that children with milk protein allergy need adequate diet plans to replace the nutrients they are not getting due to this allergic condition. “To start, one can’t use any mammalian milk to replace cow’s milk. Goat’s or mare’s milk are still likely to trigger allergies. Soya is also controversial because of the Phytoestrogens contained in the milk. Most guidelines state that it should not be used before 6 months of age. There is also a 50% chance of children with non-IgE milk allergy having reactions to it.”

Fiona says the best option for parents is to give babies with diagnosed cow’s milk protein allergy the correct milk formula as recommended and prescribed by a healthcare professional.

Dr McDonald points out that adequate nutrition may be the most important aspect to remember. “In my experience, I have seen children who are malnourished and who develop a host of additional problems as a result of their diets not being supplemented with suitable milk substitutes.”

She reiterates that parents managing their child’s allergies need to keep three things in mind at all times. “This includes ensuring an accurate diagnosis, consistent follow-ups with medical professionals and always providing the correct nutrition to the child.”

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