There has been much attention regarding milk allergies in infants. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends breast milk over formula because true allergies to breast milk are extremely rare. However, not all families are able to breastfeed, and therefore questions regarding allergies and formula are common.
Simply put, formulas are either made with cow’s milk protein or soy protein. The Committee of Nutrition for the AAP estimates that milk protein allergies are found in 2-3 percent of infants and allergies to soy formula are found in just over 1 percent of babies. Testing if your baby is truly allergic or if he or she has some other condition that mimics the allergy can be difficult. Symptoms of milk allergies can include severe diarrhea with or without blood, skin rashes that cover much of the body, vomiting, failure to gain weight, and irritability. Babies who seem to be reacting to formula might not have a milk allergy, but may be lactose intolerant, have colic, or have another medical condition that should be diagnosed. Before switching formulas from milk-based to soy or to a hypoallergenic formula (which is much more expensive), it’s best to see your pediatrician.
If your baby is diagnosed with a milk allergy, you will be instructed to switch formulas. The options include:
- Soy formula: These formulas have been used for years in babies that react to cow’s milk formulas. The AAP estimates that up to 14 percent of babies who react to milk proteins will also react to soy. If your infant had a severe milk-protein reaction, your doctor may advise against trying soy formula at all.
- Hypoallergenic formulas: These formulas have undergone extensive clinical testing to ensure that 90 percent of babies with documented cow’s milk allergies will not react to them. They are based on extensively hydrolyzed milk proteins or amino acids (in English, the proteins are broken down into smaller, and thus less allergenic pieces). These are expensive but have been shown to reduce reactions to all potential allergens. All major formula makers also make a hypoallergenic formula. For those families on WIC (Women, Infants, and Children special supplemental nutrition program), these formulas are provided with physician documentation of the allergy.
If you have done any formula shopping you will also notice some formulas with the label “whey protein partially hydrolyzed.” Unfortunately, infants with true milk-protein allergies will also show symptoms if given this formula.
- About 2-3 percent of all infants have milk allergies; babies are rarely allergic to breast milk.
- Babies who are allergic to cow’s-milk-based formulas should switch to soy or hypoallergenic formulas.
- The diagnosis of milk-protein allergy can be tricky and is best made with the help of a medical professional.
- Formulas labeled “whey protein partially hydrolyzed” are not indicated for babies with a true milk protein allergy.
It is awful when your baby has a milk allergy. Until you find the right formula, and that takes time, you just feel helpless. I breastfed my youngest for about a month. It just wasn’t working well due to lots of different issues, until we moved on to formula. He immediately became colicky and finally I noticed blood in his stool. After tests, the pediatrician immediately had us start on nutramigen which was working ok, or at least better, for a little while. Didn’t last. Blood in his stool again and more tests. Finally, he was prescribed Neocate, a prescription formula. This and Prilosec for severe acid reflux was the golden ticket to my happy baby. It was a really long road with lots of tears and fears, but we got through it and Graham has grown out of the milk allergy. He’s drinking whole milk with no problems. Just don’t lose hope if you’re going through this. Know you’ll find the right thing for your baby and happy days are ahead!
Alexe I’m so glad to hear your son grew out of it! I had to start my daughter on formula at 6 months when I underwent surgery for a breast abscess. After a trip to the ER for an allergic reaction to the first formula we tried, we started her on soy. But that made her horribly constipated, so we went to Nutramigen. That has been a blessing, and WIC allows it with a doctor’s note.
I’m back to breastfeeding her but only planning on going until 6 months, so it’ll be back to Nutramigen for her. And you’re right, it’s so frustrating trying to get the right formula, feeling helpless all the while!
When did you start trying milk with your son?
Oh, thank goodness WIC helped with the Nutramigen Holly. Neocate was $60 a can, and he would go through one can in a week and a half. We had to FIGHT our insurance company that this was a serious medical issue. My child had to have this formula!
When Graham turned one, we gradually started mixing the Neocate and whole milk. We did this for a few months little by little at a time eventually it was all milk and he’s done great on it! Good luck!