What is it?
Cows’ milk protein allergy (CMPA) is the most common food allergy in infants and children, affecting around 2-7% in the UK. In CMPA the allergy is to one of the proteins found in cow’s milk.
CMPA usually develops early in life, after the first tastes of cows’ milk, either as formula milk or used in weaning foods. Sometimes it can occur in babies which are breastfed if the mum drinks cows’ milk (although this is much rarer).
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms can take minutes to hours to develop, and can vary between infants, but can include:
- Mouth/throat swelling
- Runny nose
- Red rash
- Urticaria (hives)
Some of these are normal for babies to have from time to time; however if your baby has several of these symptoms at once, if they are causing your baby distress, or continue for long periods of time, or happen after feeds, this may suggest an allergy to cows’ milk.
What should you do if you think your child has it?
If you think your baby might have an allergy it is 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 through one of the following:
- A diet history and family medical history
- A blood test (called a RAST)
- A skin prick test (SPT)
- A food elimination diet followed by a re-challenge.
During this time they may advise you to keep using cows’ milk or cows’ milk products, or suggest alternatives, depending on what test they may use. It is important to follow their recommendations. If you are unsure then ask.
Can it be treated?
Almost 90% of infants will grow out of CMPA by their third birthday so for the majority this is not a permanent change. Your GP may suggest ‘re-challenges’ with cows’ milk (under medical supervision) to see if this has occurred and cows’ milk can now be introduced. In the meantime cows’ milk will have to be carefully avoided (see below).
It is important to avoid cows’ milk if your infant has been diagnosed with CMPA to ensure that they can continue to grow well and stay healthy during their early years. An alternative cows’ milk free formula (and cows’ milk free products) should be used instead. Your GP or dietitian should be able to advise you on suitable alternatives.
If CMPA is diagnosed in your infant while you are still exclusively breastfeeding then you will need to avoid cows’ milk yourself to avoid it being passed to your baby through the milk.
If it is diagnosed during weaning then foods made from cows’ milk will need to be avoided, such as cheese and yoghurts. Check ingredients listings for any of the following names:
- Milk solids
- Cheese powder
- Whey powder
All HiPP packaging lists milk as an ingredient, and also in a bright yellow ‘CONTAINS’ box below the ingredients listing. Have a look at all of the HiPP Organic products which don’t contain milk.
Most major supermarkets will also provide lists of foods which do not contain specific ingredients on request.
It can be a daunting task, however with the right information there is no reason why cows’ milk protein allergy should prevent your infant from exploring new foods and textures, and you from enjoying the first years of your baby's life!