What is cow's milk protein allergy?

Cow's milk protein allergy is one of the most common childhood food allergies, but it's not always easy to know when your baby has it. Discover what causes cow's milk protein allergy in babies, CMPA symptoms and much more.


Babies with cow's milk protein allergy experience allergic reactions to certain proteins that are naturally found in cow’s milk and other dairy products. Ordinarily, your baby's immune system keeps him healthy by fending off illness-causing germs. But sometimes, an infant's immune system mistakenly reacts to things that are not a health threat. For reasons that are not clear, the immune system of a baby with cow's milk protein allergy sees milk protein as an unwanted and harmful invader, similar to a disease-causing virus. For protection, your infant's immune system releases chemicals like histamines to fight off the cow's milk protein. This causes allergic reactions. Lactose intolerance, the inability to digest a natural sugar in milk called lactose, can cause tummy upset. However, this digestive problem is rare in infants. Unlike cow's milk protein allergy, lactose intolerance doesn't engage the immune system and cause allergic reactions like eczema, hives, breathing problems, or chronic runny noses and coughs.

What should I do now?

Your doctor should evaluate your baby. If your baby is displaying CMPA symptoms, your doctor may suggest eliminating cow's milk protein from your infant's diet. This isn't as daunting as it might sound. Breastfed babies can be exposed to cow's milk protein fragments passed in breast milk when their mothers consume dairy products. Breast milk still provides the best nutrition for your baby, so you shouldn't stop nursing. Depending on your doctor's recommendation, you may have to make some dietary changes such as eliminating dairy products. You may want to also talk to a dietitian about finding alternative sources of calcium and other nutrients to replace what you were getting from dairy products.
For a formula-fed infant, your doctor may recommend switching to an extensively hydrolyzed, hypoallergenic formula such as Nutramigen® A+® with LGG® which helps manage cou's milk protein allergy in babies. The cow's milk protein in Nutramigen®A+® with LGG®  has been broken down or hydrolyzed into small pieces, so they are less likely to cause allergic reactions in infants with cow's milk protein allergy.

Most babies with cow’s milk protein allergy do well on an extensively hydrolyzed formula, however, in some severe cases, an amino acid formula (such as PURAMINO A+®) may be recommended.
Ask your baby’s doctor which formula is appropriate for your baby.
Once you make dietary changes and the allergic reactions are managed, your baby's disposition should greatly improve. Here's more good news: You aren't facing a lifetime of saying no to your child's pleasure for ice cream, mac and cheese, and glasses of cold milk. Most children will outgrow cow’s milk protein allergy by school age1,2. As your baby gets older, your doctor may recommend that you start reintroducing your child to foods made with cow's milk. This should always be done carefully and under a doctor's recommendation and supervision.

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1. Saarinen KM et al. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2005; 116: 869–75. 2. Skripak JM et al. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2007; 120: 1172–7.