Discover the key signs and symptoms of dairy allergy in babies – and what you can do about it.
An allergic reaction in your baby will make most mums panic – especially if you think it’s to do with feeding. While they aren’t incredibly common, around six to eight per cent of kids under the age of three have a food allergy, is the most common type.
The good news? A dairy allergy or interolerance is manageable and your baby may even grow out of it by the time she goes to school.
When does a dairy allergy start?
Most dairy allergy cases become noticeable during weaning. ‘This is because the body’s immune system becomes confused and reacts to what, for most people, are harmless proteins in foods, such as those found in cows’ milk,’ says Maureen Jenkins, director of clinical services at Allergy UK.
Foods such as butter, cheese, cream, custard, yogurt, ice cream and even chocolate all tend to have cow’s milk in them and may trigger an allergic reaction.
A dairy allergy or interolerance is manageable and your baby may even grow out of it by the time she goes to school
But occasionally a dairy allergy can be picked up even before weaning starts. ‘This can be because of dairy you’ve eaten present in your breast milk or because of the cow’s milk formula your baby’s drinking,’ says Maureen. You may also notice symptoms if you switch from breastfeeding to bottle feeding.
While a dairy allergy is the most common infant food allergy, a lactose intolerance is pretty rare. If your baby is lactose intolerant, she’ll have difficulty digesting lactose or sugars in milk.
Is a dairy allergy genetic?
If you or your partner have allergies, then your baby is more likely to develop an allergy. ‘A dairy allergy is also more common if your baby has severe eczema,’ says Maureen.
What are the symptoms?
There are two type of allergic reactions – one is immediate and the other is delayed.
An immediate reaction is usually obvious within 30 minutes. ‘Symptoms include redness, runny noses, breathing difficulties, vomiting, diarrohea and a rash around the mouth,’ says Maureen. If you see any of these symptoms, or if your baby is struggling to breathe or has gone floppy, then make sure she gets medical attention as quickly as possible.
An immediate reaction is usually obvious within 30 minutes
The other type of reaction is known as a delayed reaction and is much more common. ‘A delayed reaction may not have any symptoms for a few hours or even a day or two,’ Maureen explains. ‘As the pain or discomfort is abdominal related, the symptoms will be similar to colic and include a lot of crying and back arching.’ Your baby may also refuse to eat, as she may associate eating with pain.
If you think your baby’s having a delayed reaction, take her to see her GP as soon as you can.
How is a dairy allergy normally diagnosed?
If your baby has an immediate reaction, it tends to be clear to a doctor that it’s a food-related allergy. However a delayed reaction can be harder to diagnose.
‘A dairy allergy may take some time to diagnose properly and at first your baby may accidently be treated for reflux,’ says Maureen. Your baby’s GP may conduct a skin or blood test and, once other problems are cancelled out, he’ll be referred to a paediatric allergy specialist.
You’ll probably also have to follow an exclusion diet, where cow’s milk is removed from your baby’s diet and keep a diary of your baby’s symptoms.
What happens next?
If your baby’s dairy allergy is confirmed, you’ll be given lots of advice and guidance on how to manage her diet. ‘You may be given a special formula – instead of cow’s milk – for your bottle-fed baby to drink,’ says Maureen. And if you’re breastfeeding, you may be advised to avoid eating dairy yourself.
Once she starts avoiding cow’s milk, her condition should improve quickly. There are other precautions you’ll need to take at home, too.
‘If your baby has an immediate reaction to dairy, you may have to carry an adrenalin injection with you,’ says Maureen. ‘You’ll also need to read every food label extremely carefully.’ It’s also advised that you avoid eating out with your tot so you know exactly what is going into her food.
If your baby has a delayed reaction, it’s also good to get in the practice of checking each food label before giving it to her to make sure she won’t eat anything that makes her ill.
All of these ingredients have milk in them:
- Artificial butter or cheese flavour
- Casein or casinates
- Lactalbumin phosphate
- Whey or whey products
Ask your baby’s specialist for a full list of foods to avoid.
Do you think your baby could have a dairy allergy? What steps are you taking? Let us know in the comments box below.