Does My Baby Have A Milk Allergy?

What Is A Milk Allergy?

Cow’s milk allergy (CMA) is an extremely common food allergy, affecting approximately 7% of children under the age of 1. However, many children will grow out of their allergy by the time they reach 5 years old. 

A milk allergy is an irregular immune response to milk and milk-containing products. The reaction is caused by one or both types of proteins in cow’s milk, these are: 

  • Whey, located in the liquid part of milk that remains after milk curdles.
  • Casein, located in the curd of the milk.

Cow’s milk is typically introduced in babies’ formulas or when they start eating solid foods as part of their diet.

Types Of Milk Allergies

There are two types of milk allergy: IgE mediated and non-IgE mediated. If it’s IgE mediated, then allergic symptoms will happen within minutes of milk being ingested. If it’s non-IgE mediated, the reaction can take anywhere from a couple of hours to a few days to develop.

IgE Mediated Milk Allergy

This is also known as an immediate allergy, and the symptoms will be caused by an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE). Allergy symptoms can affect more than one of the body’s systems, including the digestive, integumentary (skin), circulatory and respiratory system. 

Symptoms can be classed as mild, moderate or severe. Immediate allergy symptoms tend to range from mild to moderate and generally just affect the skin. It is rare for a baby to exhibit symptoms that will affect their breathing or heart rate. However, if your baby is showing severe signs of an allergic reaction you should call an ambulance straight away as this could be life threatening, especially if they are experiencing anaphylaxis.

The most common symptoms of anaphylaxis include breathing difficulties, a fast heart rate, clammy skin, dizziness and losing consciousness or collapsing.

Non-IgE Mediated Milk Allergy

The symptoms will take a lot longer to appear if the milk allergy is non-IgE mediated and may take up to 72 hours. Non-IgE mediated symptoms also tend to fall in the mild-to-moderate category, but the cause can be harder to identify as symptoms tend to happen several hours after milk has been ingested, and they may not always look like food allergy symptoms.

Cow Milk Allergy Symptoms In Babies

Symptoms of a cow’s milk allergy typically start within the early weeks or months of your baby’s life. There are many symptoms of cow milk allergy in babies, and they will vary depending on whether the allergy is IgE mediated or non-IgE mediated. 

IgE Mediated Milk Allergy Symptoms

  • Itchy red skin
  • Hives 
  • Swelling around the face, lips, and tongue
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • A sudden, persistent cough
  • Wheezing or hoarseness
  • Unresponsive, pale, limp, and hard to wake up

Non-IgE Mediated Milk Allergy Symptoms

  • Itchy red skin
  • Wind
  • Constipation
  • Weight fluctuations
  • Blood or mucus in their stool
  • Being reluctant to feed

Milk Allergy Vs Lactose Intolerance

There are other ways that your baby may react to cow’s milk, and one of the most common is lactose intolerance. This happens when your child’s body does not have enough lactase to break the sugar (lactose) in milk down. As a result, your baby may experience digestive issues such as diarrhoea, wind, bloating and stomach pain. 

There are two types of lactose intolerance, primary and secondary. Secondary is much less common and can occur if your baby has had a gastroenteritis infection or another condition related to the digestive symptom. The damage that these issues cause to the digestive system can reduce the amount of lactase in the body, which leads to short-term lactose intolerance.  

Testing Your Child For A Milk Allergy

If you think that your child may have a milk allergy, it is important that you act quickly. Ideally get in touch with a paediatrician that specialises in allergies. We will look at the symptoms and be able to get to the bottom of whether it is a milk allergy. After examining your child’s medical history and performing an assessment, we may need to do some further tests to accurately diagnose them.

Skin Prick Test

A skin prick test can determine if your baby has an IgE-mediated milk allergy. A small amount of an allergen is placed onto the skin, which is then given a light scratch. If the skin reacts, this generally means that there is an allergy. It can also be used to help doctors measure your baby’s immune system response to other foods. We offer skin prick tests and other allergen tests to help get to the root cause of allergic responses.

Allergy Patch Test

An allergy patch test can be used to determine if your baby has a non-IgE mediated milk allergy. With this test, a small amount of the allergen is placed on a patch which your child will wear for a couple of days, helping the doctor to confirm delayed reactions. If the paediatrician is still unsure, they may use the elimination method. This involves removing the suspected allergen from their diet and observing the results. At Children’s Allergy Doctors, we have years of experience in diagnosing and managing a wide range of different allergies, and we will be with you every step of the way.

What Type Of Formula Is Available For Infants With A Milk Allergy?

While there is no cure for milk allergies, most children will grow out of it by the time they are five. However, there are plenty of ways that you can manage the condition. You can avoid triggers such as cow’s milk and use an alternative your paediatrician or GP advises. There is special infant formula available which can be prescribed. 

We work closely with dieticians to find the safest and best way to help you to manage your child’s allergy. As well as helping you manage their allergies, we can also advise you on how to avoid severe allergic reactions, such as checking menus and knowing what to do if an allergic reaction occurs.

If you think your baby has a milk allergy, book an appointment through our website. Alternatively you can contact our practice team on 0203 146 7721 or email


What parents say:

“We took our daughter to see Dr Brough for allergies and she and her team were outstanding. They made us feel very comfortable and were very helpful. Dr Brough provided helpful information and even helped us on other matters she picked up on while examining our daughter. We would highly recommend Dr Brough and her team.”


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