Cows' milk protein allergy

CMPA is the most common food allergy in babies and children. Here are the symptoms to look out for.


What is it?

Cows’ milk protein allergy (CMPA) is the most common food allergy in babies and children, affecting around 2-7% of young people in the UK. In CMPA the allergy is to one of the proteins found in cows' milk.

CMPA usually develops after the baby first tastes cows’ milk, either in formula milk or used in weaning foods. Sometimes it can occur in breastfed babies if the mum drinks cows’ milk (although this is much rarer).


What are the symptoms?

Symptoms take minutes to hours to develop, and can vary between babies, but can include:


  • Vomiting
  • Reflux
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Mouth/throat swelling
  • Runny nose
  • Red rash
  • Urticaria (hives)
  • Diarrhoea
  • Constipation
  • Anaphylaxis

Some of these symptoms are normal for babies to have from time to time; however, if your baby has several symptoms at once, if they are causing your baby distress, if they continue for long periods of time, or happen after feeds, this might suggest an allergy to cows’ milk.


What should you do if you think your child has CMPA?

If you think your baby might have an allergy, it's important to see your GP first to discuss this and rule out any other conditions.

Cows’ milk protein allergy is usually diagnosed by a GP or allergist by doing one or more of the following:

  • Taking a diet history and family medical history
  • Performing a blood test (called a RAST)
  • Performing a skin prick test (SPT)
  • Prescribing a food elimination diet followed by a re-challenge.

During this time, your doctor may advise you to keep using cows’ milk or milk products, or suggest alternatives, depending on what test they are planning to use for diagnosis. It's important to follow their recommendations to ensure an accurate test. If you're unsure, just ask.


Can CMPA be treated?

The only treatment for cows' milk allergy is to avoid cows' milk completely, but don't despair! Almost 90% of babies will grow out of CMPA by their third birthday, so it's likely to be just a temporary issue.

Your GP may suggest periodic ‘re-challenges’ with cows’ milk (under medical supervision) to see if your little one has outgrown the allergy.


Management of CMPA

If your baby has been diagnosed with CMPA, you'll need to carefully avoid all cows' milk. Your GP or dietitian should be able to advise you on choosing a cows’ milk free formula as well as other cows’ milk free products.

If your baby is diagnosed with CMPA while you are still exclusively breastfeeding, then you might need to avoid cows’ milk yourself to keep it from being passed to your baby through the milk.

If your baby is diagnosed during weaning, then you'll also need to avoid giving foods made from cows’ milk, such as cheese and yoghurt. Lots of processed foods also contain milk or milk products, so it's important to check ingredient listings for any of the following names:


  • Milk solids
  • Cream
  • Yoghurt
  • Cheese
  • Cheese powder
  • Casein
  • Buttermilk
  • Butter
  • Whey powder
  • Lactose

All HiPP packaging lists milk as an ingredient if the recipe contains it, and we also highlight it in a bright yellow ‘CONTAINS’ box below the ingredients listing to make it easy to find. (Luckily, lots of our HiPP Organic foods don’t contain milk!)


Most major supermarkets will also give you a list of foods which do not contain specific ingredients if you ask for one.

We know cows' milk protein allergy might seem a bit scary at first, but rest assured: now that you've got the right information, your baby will still be able to explore lots of amazing new tastes and textures!