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Understanding Milk Allergies in Babies

March 17, 2022 4 min read

Filled with vitamin D and calcium, cow’s milk is a great addition to a toddler’s diet once they are 1 year of age or older. 

But with rising milk allergy rates, milk has been identified as one of the nine most common food allergens in the United States. A milk allergy not only affects your child's nutritional health but can have rippling effects on their quality of life, from living in fear around food to feeling restricted in their daily activities. 

That’s why at SpoonfulONE we’re on a mission to fight these rising rates. Ready to learn more? Here’s what parents need to know about cow’s milk allergies.

How Common Is A Milk Allergy In Babies?

Affected by both genetic and environmental factors, food allergies occur when your child's immune system decides that a certain food is a "danger" to their health. Their immune system starts sending out immunoglobulin E (or IgE) antibodies that react to the food and cause an allergic reaction.

A cow’s milk allergy is one of the most common allergies among children and adults, affecting up to 2.5% of children under three years old. 

And every year, food allergy rates are increasing. The CDC reports that the prevalence of food allergies in children has increased by 50% between 1997 and 2011, with as many as 6 million children in the United States developing some form of food allergy. 

What Does A Milk Allergy Look Like

Sometimes it may be difficult to tell a milk allergy apart from an intolerance to lactose. While an allergy is an immune response, you still can experience some of the same symptoms as an intolerance, such as an upset stomach. Learn more here about the difference between an allergy and an intolerance.

For an allergy, reactions can range from mild, like sneezing or itching, to severe, like swelling or anaphylaxis that results in difficulty breathing and a sudden drop in blood pressure that sends the body into shock. 

Most food-related allergy symptoms occur within minutes of eating, but allergic reactions can still occur within 2-4 hours of ingestion. Signs that your baby has developed a milk allergy may include:

  • Stomach distress including vomiting, cramps, indigestion, or diarrhea
  • Difficulty breathing, wheezing, or shortness of breath
  • Repetitive cough, hoarse voice, or tightness in the throat
  • Hives, red skin, or swelling around the face, mouth, or tongue
  • Confusion, dizziness, or loss of consciousness
  • Weak pulse
  • In rare cases, anaphylaxis

If your child has shown a reaction to milk, you should have your pediatrician test for a food allergy. Common testing methods include a skin prick test, IgE testing, and an oral food challenge. 

Long-Lasting Effects Of A Milk Allergy

Fortunately, most children will outgrow their allergy to milk, with one study showing up to 75% of children outgrew their allergy. But there is no guarantee that your child will outgrow their food allergies, as a cow’s milk allergy is also one of the most common allergies in adults.

Having a milk allergy also puts you at a higher risk of obtaining other food allergies. According to the ACAAI, about 40% of children with a food allergy are allergic to more than one food. If your child has been diagnosed with a cow’s milk allergy, they may be at a higher risk to have a reaction to milk from other domestic animals, like goat, whose protein is very similar.

But even if they have a milk allergy, they may be able to tolerate baked milk. About 70% of children with a milk allergy are likely to tolerate baked cow’s milk as the protein structure that causes the milk allergy is disrupted when heated. Children with a milk allergy who can tolerate eating baked milk are also much more likely to outgrow their allergy at a young age than those who remain allergic to baked milk.

Lastly, studies have shown that children with a food allergy are two to four times as likely to develop other allergic conditions, such as asthma or eczema.

How To Manage Milk Allergies

A staple ingredient, milk can be found in many foods and beverages and can be very difficult to avoid. There are also many hidden sources of milk. It can be found in processed foods, baked goods, and processed meats and even if a food is labeled "milk-free" or "nondairy," it may still contain allergy-causing milk proteins.

Milk or milk-containing products are found in many common foods such as:

  • Butter, buttermilk, margarine, and artificial butter
  • Custard, pudding, and yogurt
  • Cheese, cottage cheese
  • Sour cream and half-and-half
  • Baked goods and desserts
  • Candies and chocolates
  • Breads and tortillas
  • Pasta
  • Snack foods such as chips and crackers
  • Cereals, pancakes, and other breakfast foods
  • Lactose in all forms
  • Casein and whey in all forms
  • Ice cream and sherbet

Milk is required by the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act of 2004 to be listed in clear language on the ingredient label by manufacturers of packaged food products. However, it is important to be aware that cross-contamination can occur where products are manufactured on shared equipment with milk.

How To Avoid A Milk Allergy In Babies

We know that no parent wants to see their child suffer from food allergies, but unfortunately, there is no guarantee that they can be avoided. 

However, there is still hope. Groundbreaking clinical studies, like LEAP and EAT, have taught us that babies who were given potentially allergenic foods as a regular part of their diet were less likely to develop a food allergy. 

According to the AAP and the USDA’s latest guidelines, you can (and should!) start introducing allergenic foods to your baby alongside other solids. In fact, experts now consider it safe for your child to start allergen introduction as early as four months, rather than later in life. But since cow’s milk should not be given as a beverage until your child is 12 months old, food allergen introduction powder, like SpoonfulONE’s Mix-ins, is an easy alternative to introduce your children to milk and other allergenic foods.

At SpoonfulONE, we believe regular, consistent exposure to common allergens in the diet throughout early childhood is key to staying healthy.