One of the biggest questions expectant and new parents face is whether to nourish their child through breast milk or formula. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, and the decision is yours. However, you should get as much information as possible concerning the choices available so you can make an informed decision. If you happen to choose to feed your baby formula, then a big concern should be “is your bub allergic to baby formula?”
One of the most common baby allergies are to cow milk and this is a big component of baby formula (specifically the milk found in the formula). Unfortunately, about 50% of infants who are allergic to milk are also allergic to its soy-based counterpart. The good news is that only about 2/3% of all babies are allergic to milk and in many of these cases, your little bub will grow out of the allergy by the age of 2 or 3.
What causes the allergic reaction?
An allergy is an over-reaction of the body’s immune system to a foreign body (and in this case, the protein found in milk). This means that your baby’s immune system will attack the proteins within milk, ‘seeing’ it as a foreign item that needs to be destroyed and this causes the allergic reaction. Basically, your bub won’t be able to process the proteins within the formula either, so along with an allergic reaction, your baby might be deprived of nutrients. Depending on how allergic your baby is will determine the severity of the reaction.
Heredity also plays a part in baby formula allergies, if a baby’s mum or dad was allergic to formula (or milk) as a child there is a 50-80% chance that their child will inherit those same allergies. Infants who are breastfed have a lower risk of developing a milk allergy than those who are formula fed. But researchers don’t fully understand why some develop a milk allergy and others don’t.
Symptoms of baby formula allergy
Doctor Dr. John Moissidis, an Allergist & Immunologist gives us six signs that your bub might be suffering from a baby formula allergy, these signs include:
- Diarrhoea- Diarrhoea is widespread in babies, but if it is constant (an average of two to four times a day for more than a week) and/or there is blood in the nappy, it could signal a baby formula allergy
- Vomiting- Babies often spit up bits of food, but if your bub is vomiting beyond the typical mealtime throw up he/she should be examined by a doctor. Reflux symptoms, such as spit-up and difficulty swallowing, can also be allergy symptoms
- Skin Rash- There are many causes for infant skin rashes like eczema or hives. Baby formula allergy is one possible cause, especially if the rash occurs along with some of these other symptoms
- Extreme Fussiness- Every baby cries, but crying constantly for long periods of time is unusual. When there is no obvious reason, this is usually called colic. Sometimes this extreme fussiness is actually caused by the tummy pain resulting from an allergy to the proteins found in formula.
- Passing Wind-All babies have gas, but when it occurs along with several of these other symptoms, it can also signal an allergy to milk proteins.
- Respiratory Problems-Colds are common for babies, but wheezing, struggling to breathe and developing excess phlegm in the nose and throat is not. For some kids, these respiratory issues can be the baby’s reaction to the protein found in milk
How baby formula allergy is diagnosed
If you think that your little one has some of the above symptoms and you are worried that he/she has an allergy, then its best to call your doctor. He will generally ask for a family medical history, as this kind of thing is often inherited. Your doctor will then probably take blood and stool samples. A skin test may also be carried out to confirm any diagnosis.
Your doctor may also ask that you cut formula out of your baby’s diet for a week, then introduce it again and see if there are any negative effects. It’s important to know for certain if your child has a milk protein allergy because if he/she does, you’ll have to be very careful about making sure that all milk and milk products are removed from his/her diet.
Treating a formula allergy
There are a couple things you can do if your bub can’t tolerate regular formula. The first option is to go for a soy-based baby formula. Unfortunately as mentioned earlier, 50% of baby’s who are allergic to the proteins within milk are also allergic to soy so this may not be the best option. However, there are two kinds of formulas that may be safe for your child:
- Extensively hydrolysed formulas have cow’s milk proteins that are broken down into small particles so they’re less allergenic than the whole proteins in regular formulas. Most infants who have a milk allergy can tolerate these formulas, but in some cases, they still provoke allergic reactions
- Amino acid-based infant formulas, which contain protein in its simplest form (amino acids are the building blocks of proteins). This may be recommended if your baby’s condition doesn’t improve even after a switch to a hydrolysed formula
Once you change your bub to another formula, the symptoms of the allergy should go away in about a month. Your doctor will probably recommend that you continue with a hypoallergenic formula up until the baby’s first birthday, then gradually introducing cow’s milk into his/ her diet.
Last Published* November, 2021
*Please note that the published date may not be the same as the date that the content was created and that information above may have changed since.