Milk Protein Allergy: Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Managing Your Child's Diet

November 14, 2023

Written by Gia Eapen, MD

Medically reviewed by

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Key Points

  • Milk protein allergy, especially cow's milk protein allergy, is commonly seen in babies during their first year.
  • Doctors diagnose this allergy by examining symptoms, history, and specific tests.
  • Treatment usually requires changes in diet, whether breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, and professional guidance can be essential.
  • Regular check-ups are vital, as many children grow out of this allergy.
  • Most children with this allergy can grow and thrive with the right care and dietary changes.

Milk protein allergy (MPA), particularly from cow's milk, is a common issue during infancy, affecting up to 15% of babies. The challenge of recognizing, testing, and managing this through diet or special formulas is something many parents face.

Understanding MPA

MPA can cause different symptoms like skin rashes, breathing difficulties, and stomach issues such as constipation.

The risk of this allergy in bottle-fed babies is between 2% to 5%, while in breastfed babies, it's much lower. Some children may also react to goat or buffalo milk, and even soy milk, though less commonly.

Why Does It Happen?

The exact cause of milk protein allergy is still under study, but genetics and environmental factors are known to play roles. Some children have a higher likelihood of developing this allergy if they have a family history of allergic conditions such as asthma, eczema, or hay fever.

Types of MPA

There are two primary types of MPA: immediate and delayed. The immediate type usually occurs within minutes to hours after ingestion, while the delayed type may take hours or days to manifest.

Signs and Symptoms: A Closer Look

Symptoms vary greatly and can include:

  • Skin reactions: Hives, eczema, or redness.
  • Respiratory issues: Wheezing, coughing, nasal congestion.
  • Digestive problems: Vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation.
  • Behavioral changes: Irritability, colic, or refusal to eat.
  • Severe reactions: Such as anaphylaxis, though rare, requiring immediate medical attention.

Diagnosis and Confirmation of MPA

Doctors often diagnose milk protein allergy by looking at a child's symptoms and history. Tests like skin-prick testing, measuring specific allergy antibodies, and patch testing can also help. Combining these tests has shown to be 95% accurate in confirming the allergy in some cases.

Management of MPA

The main goal in treating this allergy is avoiding the problem foods while still eating healthy. Breastfeeding parents may need to stop eating all cow’s milk protein and similar foods. It might feel difficult, but talking with a Registered Dietitian can help — you can find a provider covered by your insurance through Fay.

For bottle-fed babies, a switch to special formulas might be necessary. These are designed to be safe and effective for most children with this allergy.

Introducing Solid Food and What to Expect as Your Child Grows

Solid foods can usually be introduced at the normal time unless there are complications. Again, working with a Registered Dietitian in the Fay network can make this easier. Knowing when to try giving milk again depends on how your child reacts and what they are eating. Some children can tolerate milk again after a year, while others might need more time. Regular check-ups are key.

The journey of dealing with milk protein allergy involves understanding the problem, finding the right treatment, and keeping an eye on how your child is doing. Breastfeeding can continue with some changes to your diet, and most children do well. Parents don't have to face this challenge alone. Professional help, such as a Registered Dietitian covered by your insurance, can guide you through every step, making sure your child grows while managing this common childhood allergy.

The views expressed by authors and contributors of such content are not endorsed or approved by Fay and are intended for informational purposes only. The content is reviewed by Fay only to confirm educational value and audience interest. You are encouraged to discuss any questions that you may have about your health with a healthcare provider.


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Gia Eapen, MD

Written by Gia Eapen, MD

Dr. Gia Eapen is a skilled Obstetrics and Gynecology (OB/GYN) physician at Case Western/MetroHealth. A Northwestern University alumna, she pursued her medical degree at the University of Vermont, fostering a deep understanding of women's health and reproductive medicine. She combines her comprehensive knowledge with a dedication to patient-centered care, embodying a commitment to enhancing healthcare standards in her field.


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