Milk allergy occurs when your baby’s immune system reacts to proteins in milk. It is the most common childhood allergy, affecting between 2%-7% of babies. There are two types of milk allergy, firstly that which causes delayed reactions such as eczema, vomiting, diarrhoea or constipation, and stomach cramps. The second causes immediate reactions such as rashes, swollen lips, diarrhoea, vomiting, stomach cramps and difficulty breathing. In more serious cases it can cause an anaphylactic reaction, which needs urgent 999 medical treatment.
If you suspect your baby may have a milk allergy, the first thing to do is visit your GP and get a referral to a dietician who should help and advise you as you navigate your way through baby and toddlerhood. NHS Choices advises that babies who have a delayed reaction to milk will usually outgrow it by the time they go to school. Those who have an immediate reaction may unfortunately have this up until their teenage years.
The problem with delayed reactions, is that it is very difficult to establish that the reactions are due to milk allergy as they can occur up to 24 hours after having the milk, and most of these reactions are also common conditions in non-allergic babies. Your GP or dietician will help you to eliminate all milk from your child’s diet for a period of time and then carry out a ‘milk challenge’ where you re-introduce some foods containing milk to see if reactions occur.
Here are our top tips for managing a milk allergy
When baby is still on a liquid diet it is much easier to manage. If breastfeeding, ensure your dietary intake does not include milk. That way, nothing will pass on to baby. If formula feeding, there are some special types of formula you should use and your GP or Dietician will be able to advise you which one to try.
Weaning, especially as a first time mum (or dad) can be daunting at the best of times, but when baby has a milk allergy, that can be a very scary prospect. However, help is out there and there are plenty of weaning books available that include milk free recipes. To get you started, these are some of our favourites http://topmums.co.uk/dairy-free-weaning-recipes/
When taking your little one out and about, make sure you pack enough snacks to last. It’s much less stressful knowing you have milk free snacks to hand rather than relying on having to buy something. Here are a few ideas for milk free snacks on the move
- Cucumber, pepper or carrot sticks to dip in hummus
- Chopped fruit
- Rice cakes
- Chopped ham
By far the most difficult stage is when your baby becomes a little more independent. We all know the scenario, little one is crawling around the floor of the playgroup when…..”oooh, a scrap of food, I’ll try that!” into the mouth it goes before we really have any clue what it was. For most parents, this at the worst is unpleasant, but when baby has milk allergy, obviously the consequences can be more serious. If you know other mums at playgroup, make sure they are aware of your child’s allergy and ask them to intervene if they see this happening. Make a point of chatting to mums you don’t know too so that you can slip this into conversation.
Then there comes a time when little one is out of your sight, pre school, where kids often enjoy sneaking food off each others plates. You should ensure all staff are aware of your child’s milk allergy. Try to talk to them individually if possible at drop off/pick up time.
Involve siblings too. Explain to your non-allergic children why it’s so important to manage their brother or sisters allergy. Try to involve siblings in shopping and cooking, this will make them feel included and may also encourage them to act responsibly towards their siblings allergy. Some siblings are very protective towards younger brothers and sisters and it never hurts to have another pair of eyes watching what little one is doing!
When your child is old enough, the best possible way to manage the condition is to educate them. Toddlers understand a great deal more than we often give them credit for, so start explaining in very simple terms right from a young age. For example “you don’t drink milk because it makes your tummy hurt”.
Finally, try to be prepared. If your child has a milk allergy, knowing what to expect and how to manage the allergy at each stage of your child’s development is important. Information is power, so speak to others in the same situation if possible, listen to advice and trial that which you feel will be useful to you and your family.