Cow’s Milk Protein Allergy – What it is and how to recognise it.

Cow’s Milk Protein Allergy – What it is and how to recognise it.

Cow’s milk protein allergy (CMPA) is the most common food allergy in infants and children, affecting around 2-7% in the UK. In CMPA the allergy is to one of the proteins found in cow’s milk.

CMPA usually develops early in life, after the baby’s first tastes of cow’s milk, either as formula milk or used in weaning foods. Sometimes it can occur in babies which are breastfed if the mum drinks cows’ milk (although this is much rarer).

Diagnosis of CMPA can be difficult. It helps to be aware of the symptoms to assist the health professionals in reaching a diagnosis. Many babies have digestive issues such as colic, reflux or lactose intolerance and CMPA can often be misdiagnosed. There are many symptoms a baby may suffer from when reacting to cow’s milk protein and the problem with diagnosing CMPA is that they are very common ailments, and often not linked to CMP in the first instance.

colic baby

Each baby is different and may present with one or a number of different symptoms in more than one area.

There are three main areas that symptoms will develop, these are:

  • Stomach problems (gastrointestinal)
  • Breathing problems (respiratory)
  • Skin problems (dermatological)

Although more commonly seen in formula fed babies, symptoms can present in breast fed babies too. They will usually present in the first weeks or months of life, but a worsening of symptoms when trialed on or changed to formula milk can often be a good indication that allergy is present, even if there have only been mild or no symptoms when exclusively breastfed previously.

What are the symptoms of CMPA?


  • Vomiting
  • Reflux
  • Colic
  • Diarrhoea
  • Constipation
  • Flatulence
  • Stomach pain
  • Mucousy Stools
  • Distended Stomach


  • Wheezing
  • Sore Throat
  • Persistent Runny Nose &/or Eyes
  • Ear Ache
  • Persistent Cough
  • Oral Irritation (itchy mouth, excessive dribble)


  • Eczema
  • Rashes (skin and nappy)
  • Hives (nettle sting type rash)
  • Wheals
  • Contact Dermatitis
  • Swelling of the eyes and lips or the whole face or localised swellings (angioedema)

General Symptoms

  • Colic symptoms, excessive crying, general inability to settle.
  • In some delayed diagnosis cases slow weight gain & growth.

Some of these symptoms are normal for babies to have from time to time; however if your baby has several of these symptoms at once, if they are causing your baby distress, or continue for long periods of time, or happen after feeds, this may suggest an allergy to cows’ milk.


What should you do if you think your child has CMPA?

If you think your baby might have CMPA it is important to see your GP first to discuss this and rule out any other conditions.


It is important to avoid cow’s milk if your infant has been diagnosed with CMPA to ensure that they can continue to grow well and stay healthy during their early years. An alternative cow’s milk free formula (and cow’s’ milk free products) should be used instead. Your GP will be able to advise you on suitable alternatives.

If CMPA is diagnosed in your infant while you are still exclusively breastfeeding then you will need to avoid cow’s’ milk yourself to avoid it being passed to your baby through the milk.

If it is diagnosed during weaning, then foods made from cow’s’ milk will need to be avoided, such as cheese and yoghurts. Check ingredients listings for any of the following names:

  • Cheese
  • Milk solids
  • Cream
  • Yoghurt
  • Cheese
  • Cheese powder
  • Casein
  • Buttermilk
  • Butter
  • Whey powder
  • Lactose

Frank Kelleher Cranial Osteopath

The Children’s Clinic

Model Farm Road


021 4348918



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