Should I stop breastfeeding if my baby is allergic to cow's milk?

Q: I think my baby may be allergic to cow's milk. Should I stop breastfeeding?

A: Before you give up breastfeeding, be certain your baby really has an allergy. Cow's milk allergies can be very difficult to diagnose (even for the most experienced pediatricians). Babies often develop food sensitivities that come and go throughout their first year because of their immature immune systems. Though these are different from actual food allergies, they can sometimes have the same symptoms, like vomiting, diarrhea, or abdominal pain.

If you suspect your baby has a milk allergy, he should be checked out by your pediatrician or a pediatric gastroenterologist. He or she will likely perform a Hemoccult test, which looks for traces of blood in your baby's poop. This is the most accurate way to determine whether she really has a cow's milk allergy, which can cause inflammation of the intestines, often leading to small amounts of blood in the stool.

If it turns out that your baby does have a cow's milk allergy (anywhere from 2 to 8 percent of babies do), you can still breastfeed; you'll just have to eliminate dairy foods like milk, ice cream, cheese, and yogurt from your diet to avoid passing on the proteins that trigger the allergy. Depending on the severity of your baby's condition, you may need to take a week off from nursing to be sure all the cow's milk proteins have left your system. Your baby should get better once you're off cow's milk, but if she doesn't, try eliminating other allergens (like soy, wheat, peanuts, and eggs) from your diet and see if that helps. Even if your baby's symptoms persist, most docs agree that there's still no reason to stop nursing, since the benefits far outweigh a little intestinal inflammation and blood loss in an otherwise healthy baby.

You should also know that your baby likely won't be allergic to cow's milk forever -- many kids outgrow it by age 5.

Copyright 2009 Meredith Corporation.

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