By Markita Lewis, MS, RD
Markita is a clinical dietitian with a passion for the biological, social, and cultural aspects of eating. She enjoys writing about nutrition and wellness, food justice and policy, cultural foodways, and the psychology of nutrition.
When you find out your child has any kind of allergy, it can be scary. Allergy symptoms can be serious and even fatal if not addressed, and it’s not ever easy to completely avoid the cause, especially in the case of a milk or dairy allergy when these products are common in a variety of foods and beverages. You may be able to fully control what your child eats as an infant and toddler but what about as they grow and go to school or visit their friend’s homes? It’s natural, then, to wonder if your baby or toddler will outgrow a milk allergy. So, will they? Every child is different, but it actually is common for children with milk allergies to outgrow them.
Here, we discuss what a milk allergy is, how it differs from lactose intolerance, the signs to look out for, potential treatment options, timelines for outgrowing a milk allergy, and what to do if your child doesn’t outgrow a milk allergy. Thankfully, the modern world has equipped us with the science we need to diagnose and treat allergies and plenty of alternatives to make life enjoyable without milk on the table.
What Is A Milk Allergy?
A milk allergy is defined as an allergy to either the casein or whey protein in cow’s milk. It affects 2-3% of all babies but is serious when it does. When a child has a milk allergy, the body’s immune system rejects the cow’s milk protein and releases histamines that cause allergic symptoms. A baby can begin to show signs of a milk allergy at any time. Even if you’re breastfeeding, your child can be exposed to cow’s milk through breast milk if it’s a part of your diet.
If your child has a milk allergy they may exhibit symptoms that range from serious to life-threatening including hives, vomiting, abdominal pain, blood in stool, and/or a scaly skin rash, among others. In severe, life-threatening, cases, children may have an anaphylactic reaction and experience hypotension or lose consciousness. Talk to your doctor right away if your child is showing any of these signs. They may perform a skin test or observe your child’s behaviour and symptoms to diagnose them appropriately and employ a proper treatment plan.
When A Child May Outgrow a Milk Allergy
Although serious, a milk allergy diagnosed in infants is most often not permanent. In fact, many babies outgrow a milk allergy by the time they are one years old, and most children outgrow a milk allergy by three years old. Some may not outgrow a milk allergy until five years old, and other children won’t outgrow it at all.
To know if your child has outgrown a milk allergy, revisit your doctor. They may perform some of the same tests used to diagnose the milk allergy to confirm the diagnosis. These could include an allergy skin test, blood and stool tests, and/or an oral test. During an oral test, your doctor would have your child consume milk under observation and wait a few hours to see if they exhibit any symptoms.
Milk allergies in babies are serious and the symptoms can be severe so always consult your doctor before reintroducing milk and dairy products into your child’s diet.
What About Lactose Intolerance?
A lactose intolerance is actually quite different from a milk allergy. A lactose intolerance is a digestive system issue, but a milk allergy is a response from the immune system. Lactose intolerance is defined as the inability to digest the naturally occurring sugar in milk, lactose. While a milk allergy onsets early in life and is typically outgrown, a lactose intolerance onsets later in childhood or adolescence and typically progresses as levels of lactase, the enzyme needed to properly digest lactose, naturally decline. In some rare cases, babies are born without lactase and thus are lactose intolerant from birth.
In other cases, lactose intolerance may be a symptom of something else. For instance, if your child experienced an infection or was diagnosed with celiac disease (an inability to digest gluten), his or her digestive tract may be irritated and unable to digest lactose for the time being. As your child’s digestive tract heals from damage or irritation, though, they will likely become tolerant of lactose again.
Signs of lactose intolerance in kids include abdominal pain, cramps, gas, diarrhea, and bloating. While less severe than milk allergy symptoms, these symptoms can cause extreme discomfort and should be addressed.
How To Treat A Milk Allergy or Lactose Intolerance
Unfortunately, a milk allergy cannot be treated. However, like other toddler seasonal allergies, symptoms can be completely abated as long as the allergen is avoided. Today, all food makers are required to clearly state on package labels whether foods contain milk or milk-based products, making our job as parents to protect our children from potentially harmful ingredients much easier.
Early on in your child’s life, avoiding milk and dairy will be completely up to you. If you are still breastfeeding, your doctor will have you eliminate dairy from your diet and may suggest removing other potential allergens from your diet as well. As you wean your child, you may want to choose a fortified formula to help supplement their diet with essential nutrients. At this time, it’s critical to choose a dairy-free option. Consult your pediatrician to find the best option for your child with allergies.
As your child grows, continue to feed them a dairy-free diet. Your child will be able to get everything they need from nutritious whole foods even with dairy out of the mix. Withhold giving your child any cow’s milk or dairy products until your pediatrician suggests it may be safe and then do so only under careful observation.
For treating lactose intolerance, it is also suggested to remove milk and dairy products from your child’s diet, however they may be able to tolerate these foods in small amounts depending on their personal level of intolerance. When your child is old enough, they can take a lactase-producing pill that helps assist in the digestion of lactose and greatly diminishes any symptoms from consuming lactose-containing foods.
What To Do If Your Child Doesn’t Outgrow a Milk Allergy
If your child has a milk allergy, or is lactose intolerant, it’s critical for their health and comfort to avoid milk and dairy products for as long as they show symptoms. Many parents rely on these dairy products to supply their babies and toddlers with the nutrients they need to grow and develop. However, there are adequate and even better alternatives to milk that will give children the same, if not more, nourishment. With a bit of conscious shopping, you’ll be able to find a dairy-free option that’s right for your child.
Note that most kids who are allergic to cow’s milk are also allergic to goat’s milk, sheep’s milk, and sometimes soy milk as well. When seeking a safe alternative, be sure to steer clear of formulas and foods that contain these ingredients too.
Select A Safe, Dairy-Free Alternative
For babies and toddlers who are allergic or intolerant of milk and dairy products, a plant-based formula may be the best option. For children over one year old, Else Plant-Based Complete Nutrition is a delicious and vitamin-rich non-dairy nutrition drink that many parents have turned to.
Else is completely safe for your child with a milk allergy or lactose intolerance. It is free from casein and whey (the proteins found in cow’s milk that cause allergic reactions), as well as lactose and soy. Instead, it is made from almonds, buckwheat, and tapioca and is fortified with calcium, vitamin D, and other important vitamins and minerals to support your child’s growth & development.
Else isn’t just an alternative though. Regardless of whether or not your child outgrows their allergy to cow’s milk, or has one in the first place, you can confidently feed them Else, knowing they are receiving the nutrition they need. It’s the clean, plant-based, and sustainable option you have been waiting for with a delicious taste they want.
As always, if you are seeing milk allergy symptoms in your child, it’s important to talk to your pediatrician before you make any changes that could impact your child’s health. When they recommend a cow’s milk alternative or supplemental nutrition, look to Else.
Enjoy Dairy-Free Life
If your child doesn’t outgrow a milk allergy, the world won’t stop turning. In fact, their life may be even more enjoyable without dairy in the mix; they may even choose a completely plant-based lifestyle, which has been shown to benefit long-term health.
Today, making diet changes to support kids with allergies has never been easier. There are so many incredible and delicious dairy substitutes on the market for any and everything from milk to cheese to ice cream (hurray!). These dairy-free options will ensure your child never goes without.
For now, in their toddlerhood, provide them with the tastiest, most nutritious milk-alternative available. Else Plant-Based Complete Nutrition will promote healthy growth & development during this key time—it’s unlike anything Else.
The content and advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical diagnosis, treatment, advice for specific medical conditions. Always consult a pediatrician to understand the individual needs of your child.