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Cow's Milk Allergy

On this page you will find information on suspected Cow’s Milk Allergy / Cow's Milk Protein Allergy in babies and children. We have free factsheets on the symptoms of CMPA and how to create a cow's milk free diet for your baby.

What is a Cow’s Milk Allergy?

Cow's Milk Allergy (also known as Cow's Milk Protein Allergy or CMPA) is an abnormal response by the body’s immune (defence) system in which proteins in a food (in this case cow’s milk) are recognised as potentially harmful. This causes the immune system to be 'sensitised'. Due to this, the next time that cow’s milk is consumed, the immune system remembers this protein may be harmful and may react to it by producing allergic symptoms. 

Cow’s Milk Allergy is one of the most common food allergies to affect babies and young children in the United Kingdom. While it mostly affects formula fed babies, breast fed babies can also be affected. Allergic symptoms to CMPA can happen immediately after feeding or they can be delayed.

Cow's Milk Allergy (CMA)

Kate found out that her firstborn, Eben, had a Cow's Milk Allergy, after he suffered from a reaction following a few spoonfuls of yoghurt. The experience was terrifying for new mum Kate.

Types of Cow's Milk Allergy

There are two types of Cow’s Milk Allergy depending on how the immune system reacts. Symptoms that are ‘immediate’(quick to appear) are caused by the immunoglobulin E antibody (called IgE). Typically these allergic symptoms happen within minutes of consuming cow’s milk or up to two hours afterwards. This type of reaction is described as IgE mediated food allergy.

The other type of milk allergy happens when symptoms are ‘delayed’ (slow to appear) and are caused by a different part of the immune system reacting in
a different way. This type of reaction is described as Non-IgE mediated food allergy and is the most common type. The symptoms typically develop from two hours after consumption but can take up to 72 hours. If cow’s milk continues to be consumed in the diet, the immune system will continue to produce such symptoms over days or even weeks.

Symptoms of Cow’s Milk Allergy

Symptoms of CMPA often start in the early weeks and months of life. There are many possible symptoms which may suggest your baby has a Cow’s Milk Allergy. Allergic symptoms can affect one or more of the body’s systems, including the skin, digestive and, less commonly, breathing or blood circulation. Allergic symptoms may be called mild, moderate or severe. It is important to note that many of these symptoms are commonly seen in this young age group and will often be due to other simple causes. 

Differences between Immediate and Delayed Symptoms

Find out more on differences between IgE and Non IgE mediated symptoms in our "Does my child have a Cow's Milk Allergy?" factsheet below.

Ongoing support for Cow's Milk Allergy

Your GP is responsible for the diagnosis process and for providing ongoing care, with support from a dietitian for any confirmed mild-to-moderate type of delayed onset Non-IgE mediated Cow’s Milk Allergy. They will usually advise referral of any suspected severe Non-IgE mediated and all suspected immediate onset IgE mediated milk allergy to a children’s specialist allergy service.

However, whilst waiting for your appointment, you will need to either have an appropriate hypoallergenic formula prescribed for your baby with advice on how to avoid all cow’s milk and, if weaning has started, foods which contain cow’s milk. If you are exclusively breast feeding you should be encouraged to continue to do so but also be advised to exclude all cow’s milk and cow’s milk products from your own diet.

Fortunately, most children will grow out of their Cow’s Milk Allergy in early childhood. Until that happens, your GP or allergy specialist will work with you, usually with the supporting help of a dietitian, to ensure that your child remains healthy whilst excluding all forms of cow’s milk from their diet.

If you suspect your child has CMA......

Seek advice from your GP or Health Visitor. They will be able to assess whether the symptoms may be due to milk allergy or another cause.

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