The role of nutrition in allergy 

Breastfeeding ensures that an infant gets the best possible nutrition for healthy growth and development. Breast milk also supports an infant's developing immune system by delivering important antibodies and immune-boosting substances which pass on passive immunity to help protect infants against many potential diseases (gastrointestinal and respiratory). 

Cow’s milk allergy (CMA) is the most common food allergy in early childhood, affecting 2 to 5% of infants. When an infant has CMA their immune system overreacts to one or more proteins contained in cow's milk. The infant’s’ immune system recognizes these proteins as harmful and to protect itself releases natural defense substances, such as histamines, which cause allergic symptoms in the infant.

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An allergic reaction is often the first sign that something is going wrong with the immune system, so it is important to investigate ways to reduce the risk of development of CMA or manage diagnosed CMA by providing the right nutritional support. Being able to nutritionally support an infant’s digestive and immune system is important for their growth and development. 

Although breastfeeding is best, a minority of CMA infants who are very sensitive can have allergic reactions. This does not mean that they are allergic to breast milk itself, but rather they are reacting to the small amounts of cow's milk protein that passes from mother to infant in breast milk. In these cases, CMA can be successfully managed by the mother removing dairy from her diet. If the mother feels that removing dairy from her diet isn't possible and does not want to continue breastfeeding, a healthcare professional may suggest that the baby is introduced to a specialized 'hypoallergenic' formula. 

Interesting facts about cow’s milk allergy

Cows’ milk allergy is a relatively common food allergy in babies and young children[8] and can affect both formula-fed and breast-fed babies. The allergy is an allergic reaction to the protein in cow’s milk[9]. Here, we answer some frequently asked questions about this condition.

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How does cow’s milk allergy impact infants?

The symptoms of cow’s milk allergy are wide-ranging and non-specific. Many parents can wait months for their baby to be diagnosed with cow’s milk allergy (also known as cow’s milk protein allergy) [30]. Learn more about signs and symptoms of cow’s milk allergy and what to expect when a doctor is investigating a possible cow’s milk allergy.