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During the first three or four months of a baby’s life most will have several periods of prolonged crying and fussing. No matter how much you pace the floor, cuddle, feed, wind, change the nappy – do everything the books tell you to do nothing seems to quieten those heart wrenching cries.

When we meet exhausted parents of small babies it’s important to take a detailed history of the baby’s birth, feeding habits and most important of all symptoms. Through our work we’ve seen an increase in babies presenting with dairy intolerance. It’s estimated about 2 – 7% of babies are dairy intolerant. These babies whether breast or bottle fed are often the most difficult to settle. Many will already have sought medical advice and been diagnosed with “it’s just a bit of colic” or “it’s just a bit of reflux” and given medication.

True milk allergy is very rare. Babies with a true milk allergy will have an acute reaction almost immediately after drinking milk. They quickly develop hives or a facial rash and vomit up feeds. Very,very rarely they may have an acute allergic reaction such as anaphylaxis and need urgent medical attention. Some babies have a delayed allergic reaction with symptoms such as colic, reflux eczema or dry skin, diarrhoea or constipation.

The symptoms of dairy intolerance are:

  1. Failure to thrive – these babies are often but not always “scrawny” looking. Over weeks they often drop through the centile lines of their growth charts
  2. Fussing during or after feeds
  3. Vomiting and “upset” tummy
  4. Colic and or symptoms of reflux
  5. Inconsolable crying
  6. “Fitful” periods of sleep and suddenly wake in pain (and usually pass wind!)
  7. Bloated, hard abdomen
  8. Eczema, dry skin or rashes particularly around the forehead
  9. Wheezing
  10. Cold like symptoms such as runny nose, red eyes and a “shiny” allergic looking rim around the eyes
  11. Sore buttocks and prone to nappy rash
  12. Diarrhoea or constipation or mucous (and very rarely blood) in the stools

Most children grow out of dairy intolerance by the time they are 3 years old.

Many breastfeeding mums want to know how long it takes for milk proteins to come through breast milk which is difficult to define. However, as a general rule foods eaten by a mother take 4 – 6 hours to be exposed in breast milk but can take as little as 1 hour and as long as 24 hours.

Cows milk protein (dairy) needs to be eliminated from mum’s diet for at least 2 – 3 weeks to ascertain whether this is the cause of an unhappy baby. So – it’s no quick fix! It’s also important for breastfeeding mums to make sure they substitute their diet with appropriate foods. Calcium rich foods include; salmon, sardines and mackerel (with bones), sesame seeds, almonds, dark green leafy vegetables, calcium enriched tofu, beans and baked beans. But have a look on a website for dairy free calcium rich foods.
DO remember that it’s thought about a third of people who are intolerant to dairy are also intolerant to soy! So – soya based milk and foods may not be an option.

BEFORE you embark on a dairy free diet PLEASE discuss it with a MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL.

If you are formula feeding your baby you will need to discuss your concerns with a doctor or paediatrician who may prescribe an allergy free formula milk.

The majority of breast fed babies tolerate a wide variety of foods in their mother’s diet – even the odd vindaloo! We know that small amounts of taste from mum’s diet go through to breast milk probably to allow a baby to gently get used to spicy foods where it’s the cultural norm.

As we said we have certainly seen an increase in babies with dairy intolerance in the last 20 years. But do remember infant colic is far more widely reported than food intolerances! Infant colic should disappear by the time a baby is 4 months old. Circadian rhythms also become more established at 4 months and many babies will sleep for one longer period at night.

So – if your baby is still having difficulty settling after 4 months of age and there is a strong family history of allergy it is worth considering whether your baby may have dairy intolerance.