Food allergies are a very common issue that many parents will encounter throughout the years. Your child could be allergic to peanuts, eggs, soy, and a bunch of other possibilities. There is a chance that your new infant could be allergic to the type of formula you have chosen for him.
Formula typically contains proteins found in cow’s milk. Quite a few infants, around half, are allergic to cow’s milk proteins. These families have to use soy-based milk. However, many parents prefer not to introduce soy to their children.
If you are concerned about your child having an allergy to their formula, you need first to identify the reactions and decide the next plan of action. There is a difference between a milk allergy and lactose intolerance. It is important to know the difference and to understand the symptoms that will show with both.
Don’t Jump on the Lactose Intolerance Wagon, Yet
Yes, there is a chance your child is lactose intolerant. Too many parents jump on this bandwagon as soon as their child displays any signs of an allergy to their formula.
True lactose intolerance isn’t common. It is not the same as a milk allergy. An allergy to milk is an immune response. Your body believes there is an invader inside, leading it to “attack” it. A milk allergy is different than lactose intolerance because intolerance means your body cannot absorb the milk protein and rejects it. It sounds very similar, but there is an important distinction.
Milk Allergy vs. Lactose Intolerance
It is important for parents to understand these differences. Knowing the signs and what each problem is can help you and your doctor to decide the best plan for your child.
- Milk Allergy: An allergy to milk is very similar to an allergic reaction to anything else. Your baby’s immune system is reacting to the protein in cow’s milk. Some breastfed babies can respond to dairy that the mother has consumed because milk protein does pass through breastmilk. Your child’s immune system is doing exactly what it should. It believes the cow’s milk protein is a foreign invader. To kill off this invader, his body releases histamine and other chemicals, leading to the symptoms of an allergy. Some babies even get signs like a stuffy nose or watery eyes, just like they would if they were an allergy to a plant!
- Milk Intolerance: While it may seem similar to an allergy, it has some significant Intolerance has nothing to do with the protein found in cow’s milk nor does it involve your child’s immune system. It affects your baby’s digestive system. A milk intolerance can happen to formula fed or breastfed babies. They are unable to digest the sugar in milk, called lactose. Lactose intolerance and milk intolerance are the same things. Congenital lactose intolerance starts at birth is a rare metabolic condition. Typically, it is more likely to develop over time in older children and adults. If your baby has a true lactose intolerance from birth, they will need a formula with little to no lactose.
Your child could be lactose intolerant. Some situations would increase this likelihood.
- Premature babies, who have yet to develop the lactase enzyme, have a higher risk of intolerance. However, the enzyme will grow over time.
- One or both parents are lactose intolerant, leading to a genetic condition.
- Severe diarrhea can reduce the body’s ability to create lactase for a few weeks.
- Some medications can lead to lactose intolerance.
- There are digestive disorders, like celiac disease and Crohn’s disease, can cause it. If these diseases run in your family, you should talk to your pediatrician.
If your child has one or more of these situations and has signs that are typically associated with a formula allergy, you may need to consider a hypoallergenic formula after you speak with your doctor. Nothing can replace the value of spending time discussing your child’s symptoms with your pediatrician. Parents hire doctors for this very reason!
Signs of a Slight Formula Allergy
Some babies only have minimal allergy symptoms. If your child matches some of these, you may just need to switch to a “sensitive” formula variety, rather than the hypoallergenic kinds.
- Dry, flaky, itchy patches of skin. It will look like eczema, often found behind their knees or on their elbows.
- Hives – you will find red, blotchy spots on your child’s body.
- Swollen lips or mouth. Always call 911 if you believe your child’s breathing is restricted.
- Straining to pass gas, irritable during and after eating. Overall, your child would be very fussy and noticeably uncomfortable.
- Red ring around anus. If the redness doesn’t respond to diaper rash cream, there is a good chance your child needs a sensitive formula.
Keep an eye out for these signs that would indicate your child needs a sensitive formula.
Signs of a Serious Baby Formula Allergy
Some babies have a serious baby formula allergy. If your child is displaying symptoms that remind you of colic, it could require a formula that is designed for colicky babies. Before you plan to switch, you need to tell your doctor. Remember, some of these signs could also be an indicator that something else is wrong.
- Uncontrollable crying. Your baby will cry for hours. It is very similar to colic, which is believed to be caused by stomach problems. Your child is very uncomfortable.
- Severe diarrhea. It is of utmost importance for you to call your pediatrician if your child has diarrhea. Your child can become dehydrated very quickly. If it happens 2 to 4 times a day, it is considered severe. It can be hard to distinguished normal baby stools and diarrhea. Newborns can have up to eight in a single day! If it is a watery stool with mucus, then it could be a serious issue.
- Bloody stools
- Not gaining weight. Your doctor should notice if your baby is not gaining weight as they should. It is often called failure to thrive. Babies should double their birth weight by the time they are six months old.
- Excessive spitting up or difficulty swallowing. These signs could also indicate that your child has acid reflux. Unfortunately, reflux is common for many children. It causes discomfort and a lot of spitting up.
- You may notice a rattling sound when your child is breathing. Put your ear to their chest and see what you hear. This sign is severe and requires a doctor visit. Some kids will have other respiratory symptoms like a chronic cough, nasal congestion, or a runny nose.
Can Parents Reduce the Likelihood of a Formula Allergy?
Food allergies are on the rise. It can be frustrating and scary at times. Your baby could be allergic to nearly anything! There are a few things that you can do to lessen the chance that your child develops them possibly. However, formula allergies are hard to prevent.
Doctors recommend that mothers provide breast milk to their children over formula. It is the ideal way to feed your baby. Mothers have no need to restrict their diet during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. It doesn’t help to prevent food allergies. Breastmilk is less likely to trigger an allergic reaction. It is also easier to digest and contributes to strength your baby’s immune system.
Once your child is at the age to take solid foods, which is four to six months, parents should feed their child single ingredient foods. Bananas, pears, apples, green vegetables, sweet potatoes and carrots are wonderful first foods. Parents should introduce a new food every three to five days, giving time for you to identify any food that has an allergic reaction.
The recommendations have changed for many introducing certain foods. At one time, it was believed best to wait to give your baby foods such as eggs, dairy, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, and shellfish. However, evidence now shows that delaying the introduction of these foods can INCREASE your child’s risk of developing an allergy!
However, if an allergy runs in the family, your doctor may advise you to wait to introduce until your child is older.
What Will You Do If Your Child has a Formula Allergy?
Luckily, there are options for parents who have a child with a milk allergy. The great news is that most children will outgrow their milk allergy. Some will be okay by the time they are one year old. Others take longer, but the age of three almost outgrows it. Until you reach this age, there are some things you can do.
For babies with an allergy to cow’s milk but not soy milk, there are quite a few soy-based formulas that will help your child until they are at the age of weaning. Unfortunately, many children with this allergy also have trouble with soy. Eight to 14 percent of infants will react to soy if they have a cow’s milk allergy. Here are some choices for the best soy formula.
- Enfamil ProSobee
- Similac Soy Isomil
- Gerber Good Start Soy
- Parent’s Choice Soy: WalMart brand baby formula
- Earth’s Best Organic Soy Infant Formula
If your baby needs a hypoallergenic formula, there are a few options to try. They are called extensively hydrolyzed formulas and are perfect for infants who cannot digest cow’s milk protein. They are ideal for lactose intolerant infants and babies who have a milk allergy. The hypoallergenic formula works for 90 percent of infants. Here are some choices to discuss with your doctor.
- Gerber Extensive HA Hypoallergenic
- Enfamil Nutramigen with Enflora LGG
- Similar Expert Care Alimentum Hypoallergenic
- Neocate Infant Formula with DHA and ARA
- Enfamil Pregestimil Lipil Hypoallergenic Formula with MCT Oil
In the rare case that hypoallergenic formulas don’t work, there are other choices. Amino acid-based formulas are for those babies that cannot tolerate the extensively hydrolyzed kind. These are referred to as elemental formulas. Sometimes, these types are given to preterm infants. Some babies will reject elemental formulas because they have a strong flavor and odor.
There are fewer options on the market for elemental formulas. Just like hypoallergenic, they are expensive. It is best not to give your child this type unless you have thoroughly discussed it with your doctor.
- Elecare Nutritionally Complete Amino Acid Based Medical Food
- Neocate Nutra
- Neocate with DHA and ARA
The Case Against Soy Milk
There are quite a few parents who refuse to give their child soy formula. They believe it is harmful to their child. Instead, they opt for the hypoallergenic varieties.
Can soy formula be harmful? There are some cases in which this is true, especially for premature babies. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t believe there is enough evidence that soy can damage the development of your child. There also isn’t enough evidence to prove it can be harmful for your baby’s production or endocrine function.
Many people don’t like that the soy is a phytoestrogen, meaning that it has estrogen-like activity. It could have harmful effects on a child’s immune system or thyroid function. Once again, there is no evidence that these beliefs are factual.
Only you can decide if you feel comfortable enough to allow your child to drink soy-protein based formula. 20 percent of the formula sold each year is soy-based.
What to Do Now
Your first step is to list out the reasons why you think your child has a milk allergy or a lactose intolerance. Parents can easily forget a symptom or two when they rush to the doctors. Take a few moments to look over the symptoms listed here and write out a list.
Next, contacting your doctor is the best thing. Together, you will decide if there is truly a problem. Pediatricians are trained to know the difference and to help you make the right choice. If your child has a milk allergy, your doctor may suggest a soy-based formula or a partial or fully hydrolyzed formula. Luckily, there is plenty of options on the market. Your baby will be on the mend soon!