What is a cows' milk protein allergy?

Spot the signs of a baby milk allergy and learn what you can do about it

In Newborn

    2-minutes read

    At a glance

    Cows' milk allergy is one of the most common baby allergies

    See your healthcare professional if you suspect an allergy


    Breastfeeding is the best way to reduce your baby's risk of developing allergies

    Most children grow out of allergies by the time they  reach school age  

    Allergies in babies are more common than you might think – and the most common one is to cows' milk protein. This is when the immune system mistakenly identifies the harmless protein as a threat and fights it in the form of an allergic reaction. The symptoms of a cows' milk protein allergy can include:

    • Skin rashes
    • Eczema
    • Diarrhoea
    • Vomiting
    • Stomach cramps

    More severe allergies could result in difficulty breathing and more rarely, anaphylaxis. Both of these require immediate medical attention.

    Breastfeeding and reducing the risk of allergy

    In general, the best protection you can offer your baby is breastfeeding.

    • Breastfeeding reduces your baby’s exposure to allergens from food sources found in cows' milk-based formula
    • It also contains compounds that help support the body’s immune system
    • Babies with a family history of allergy are more at risk of developing allergies themselves

    If exclusive breastfeeding isn't possible and you think that your baby may be at an increased risk, there are formulas that have been adapted to help reduce the risk of your baby developing an allergy. They need to be used from first formula feed. Please speak to your healthcare professional.

    The good news is that most children will grow out of this allergy by the age of three, and just one in five will still have the allergy as adults.

    IMPORTANT NOTICE: The best way to feed a baby is to breastfeed, as breast milk provides the ideal balanced diet and protection against illness for your baby and also many non-nutritional benefits for both baby and mother. We recommend that you speak to your healthcare professional when deciding on your choice of feeding your baby. Professional guidance should also be sought on the preparation for and maintenance of breastfeeding. If you do choose to breastfeed, it's important to eat a healthy, balanced diet. Infant formula is intended to replace breast milk when mothers choose not to breastfeed or if for some reason they are unable to do so. A decision not to breastfeed, or to introduce partial bottle-feeding, will reduce the supply of breast milk. If for any reason you choose not to breastfeed, do remember that such a decision can be difficult to reverse. Using infant formula also has social and financial implications which must be considered. Infant formula should always be prepared, used and stored as instructed on the label, in order to avoid risks to a baby’s health.


    Baby allergy glossary

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    Important advice to mothers

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life. SMA® Nutrition fully supports this and continued breastfeeding, along with the introduction of complementary foods as advised by your healthcare professional.