Bottlefeeding a baby with milk allergy

What you need to know if your baby is allergic to cow’s milk


Most formula milk is based on cows’ milk. Although it’s modified to make it as close to breast milk as possible, the majority of formula milk is still unsuitable for babies with a cows’ milk intolerance or allergy.


How do I know if my baby’s allergic?

There are many symptoms of cows’ milk allergy. They include:

  • Crying
  • Poor weight gain or even weight loss
  • Flatulence, diarrhoea or constipation
  • Vomiting
  • Eczema or skin rashes
  • Shortness of breath

As babies can have one of these symptoms for perfectly normal reasons, it’s important to see your health visitor or doctor before jumping to the conclusion that your baby has an intolerance or allergy

Testing for cows’ milk allergy

All that’s usually required is a simple blood test, where you have to wait two weeks for the results.

Quicker and equally reliable is a skin-prick test, which your GP can perform. This involves putting an extract of milk on your baby’s arm and pricking the skin through it. If the skin is irritated after around 10 minutes, then your baby may well have an allergy.

You’ll probably be advised to exclude all cows’ milk-based products from your baby’s diet, such as yogurts, fromage frais and cheese.

Testing for cow’s milk intolerance

Intolerances can’t be tested for using a skin-prick or blood test and it’s usually a case of trial and error to see how much dairy your baby can tolerate before he has a reaction

What milk can I give my allergic baby?

Most alternative formulas are soy-based, so under the guidance of your health visitor, try your baby on one of these until he’s feeding happily.

Unfortunately some babies can be allergic to soy too. You shouldn’t try rarer alternatives such as goats’ milk without medical advice – your GP will suggest a suitable formula for your baby.

You should be able to buy non-allergic formula milk in chemists and supermarkets, though in rare cases, you may have to get a formula on prescription. If you travel away from home, you need to remember to take enough formula to tide you over, or to bring a repeat prescription with you.

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