Food allergies are becoming increasingly common nowadays. This is particularly the case for babies. Their immature endocrine, immune, and digestive systems are most susceptible to these diseases. According to the WHO, the prevalence of food allergies in infants is about 10%. This is quite a large percentage and, recently, there has been an upward trend.
Family history of allergic disease plays a significant role in the development of allergies. Therefore, if mom or dad has allergic reactions, the baby’s risk of developing food intolerance becomes higher.
The development of food allergies is a strong immune response to allergens entering the body. It is known that later this condition can cause a variety of allergic diseases – atopic dermatitis, GI tract lesions, respiratory system. Among all food allergens that provoke allergies in babies, cow’s milk protein is the most common.
What causes cow’s milk protein allergy?
There are two types of factors that play a determining role in the formation of a cow’s milk protein allergy in a baby: positive family history of allergic disease and GI tract immaturity.
There is a 40% risk of developing allergies in the baby if one parent has a food intolerance. In case both mom and dad are allergic, the risk increases to 80%.
As for the immaturity of the body, this condition is natural for all children under one year of age. The gastrointestinal tract (GIT) is not fully mature- hence the digestive problems that are so common in babies: not enough enzymes to break down food, the stomach is not ready to digest the amount of milk or formula that the body needs.
The development of an allergy to milk protein is also promoted by an imbalance of the intestinal microflora, to which infants with low birth weight, babies born prematurely, are prone.
Functional immaturity of the body is a temporary factor. Therefore, most successfully outgrow milk intolerance. But in some children, this condition develops into a true atopic allergy. At the same time, complex immune mechanisms work in such a way that hypersensitivity to other types of allergens, including non-food allergens, often develops as well. In addition, allergies are dangerous because they can cause delayed growth and development, metabolic disorders, and chronic digestive system diseases.
Signs and symptoms of allergic reactions to milk in formula
Allergies to cow’s milk protein in infants are widespread, and there has been a lot of attention to this matter. The downside of this increased awareness is frequent misdiagnoses. Parents sometimes unreasonably suspect that their baby has allergies and assign it to an irrational diet in this case. At the same time, the opposite situation is also dangerous when a baby continues to be fed regular infant formula milk porridge without realizing that the baby has intolerances. In order to rule out both of these mistakes, you need to have an understanding of what are the signs and symptoms of cow’s milk protein allergy.
Symptoms of intolerance can occur in a baby as early as the first days after birth. They appear almost immediately after ingestion of milk protein. Immediate reactions include respiratory disorders: dry cough, stuffy nose, wheezing, shortness of breath. In infants under one year old, such symptoms are rare. Infants are much more likely to have delayed-type reactions: the allergy shows up hours or days after consuming products containing cow’s milk protein.
Protein allergy in a baby is much more difficult to determine because digestive disorders associated with the immaturity of the gastrointestinal tract are typical for infants, and it is not always clear whether this is the norm or pathology. Nevertheless, several signs make it possible to suspect a baby is allergic to cow’s milk protein:
- Colic is common for most babies during the first months of life, but babies with a milk allergy have abdominal pain earlier and are usually more intense. The reason for the pain syndrome is that the protein is poorly digested, and its intermediate breakdown products irritate the gastrointestinal mucosa. Lack of enzymes leads to increased gas formation, which also causes increased pain.
- Bowel disorders such as diarrhea (constipation also occurs, but less frequently) can also indicate allergic reactions in infants.
- Regurgitation and vomiting after feeding
- Reduced appetite and stunted growth Babies with allergies often refuse food, are reluctant to take the breast or bottle, and have poor weight gain.
Feeding options for babies with milk allergies
According to the latest WHO recommendations, breastfeeding is the basis for preventing food allergies in children. Exclusively breastfed babies during the first months of life are much less likely to suffer from food allergies. If the baby suffers from allergies or food intolerances, choosing the right food is a challenging but manageable task. First of all, you need to use special hypoallergenic baby formulas. Their production technology may vary, but the goal is always the same – to neutralize the milk proteins that cause allergies or replace them with non-allergenic analogs.
Hypoallergenic infant formula must be produced using partial protein hydrolysis technology, splitting large milk protein molecules into smaller ones. This process reduces the allergenic properties of cow’s milk proteins, making it easier for the baby’s immature digestive tract to absorb and tolerate the formula. Hypoallergenic infant formula is suitable for babies from birth as it is fully compliant with the needs of the first year of life.
One more option to eliminate milk proteins from a baby’s diet is the soy-based formula. It is used for severe milk allergies. In addition, such formulas are prescribed for babies with lactose intolerance since it often accompanies a food allergy. In the baby’s diet, soy formula must be introduced gradually over a week and carefully monitor the reaction. Positive results are seen after about a month, and the full course of soy nutrition takes from 3 to 10 months.
It is important to remember that parents must not choose and “prescribe” such therapeutic formulas for their babies. Hypoallergenic food should be recommended only by the doctor, who will closely supervise the baby’s condition.
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