Dispelling nutrition myths, ranting, and occasionally, raving

What is a milk allergy?

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I can’t believe I haven’t written a post since August! I was naive to believe that I would have time to keep up with things like blogging with a newborn. Even as I type this I’m nursing her and it will probably take me a couple of days to finish writing this post. I’m not complaining, it’s just that my priorities have changed and feeding this little nugget takes up most of my time. However, feeding her has also prompted me to write this post. She has a suspected cow’s milk allergy (suspected because they won’t do allergy testing on infants) and by the comments I’ve gotten from people it seems that there’s a lot of misunderstanding about this allergy.

Food allergies in general are reactions to proteins found in foods. In the case of a cow’s milk allergy, that reaction is to either the whey and/or casein protein found in milk. Babies with a cow’s milk allergy will react to the protein passed to them through breastmilk as well as to the protein in most infant formulas. This means that breastfeeding moms must remove dairy from their diets. For some moms this may just mean obvious sources of dairy such as milk, cheese, and yoghurt (note: eggs are not dairy – I actually read an article by a doctor listing eggs as dairy *face-palm*). More sensitive babies may require complete removal of all dairy-containing foods from their diets, even foods in which a milk product is a very minor ingredient. Babies who are formula-fed will require special hypoallergenic formula in which the proteins are broken-down so that they can digest them.

A cow’s milk allergy is not the same as lactose intolerance which is a reaction to the lactose which is a milk sugar, not a protein. Lactose intolerance is actually extremely uncommon in infants as lactose is present in breastmilk. Generally, lactose intolerance is something that develops as children age. This means that lactose-free dairy products are unsafe for people with cow’s milk allergy and mom’s who are breastfeeding babies with this allergy.

Some people with cow’s milk allergy may tolerate goat’s milk. Goat’s milk contains casein but a slightly different version than that found in cow’s milk. However, the similar structure means that some people who are allergic to cow’s milk will also react to goat’s milk.

In things that I never thought would be an issue: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked if a baked good is dairy-free and received the response that they contain gluten. Huh? I’m not sure if this is indicative of people genuinely not knowing what dairy and/or gluten is or if it’s a result of avoidance of both these things being trendy. For those who genuinely may not be aware: dairy is products made from cow’s milk such as ice cream, cheese, yoghurt, milk, and butter. Gluten is a protein found in some grains, wheat being the most commonly consumed.

Do you have a food allergy? I’d love to hear your stories of ignorant comments below.

Author: Diana

I'm a registered dietitian from Nova Scotia, living and working in Ontario, Canada. My goal is to help people relearn how to have a healthy relationship with food.

10 thoughts on “What is a milk allergy?

  1. I feel you on the blogging! I’ve only written two posts since Cassia was born. 😅 Luckily she doesn’t seem to have any allergies.

    I know in the past there’s been uproar about the gluten-free trend “ruining” it for people with celiac disease, but I didn’t think it would spread to people with milk allergy as well 😕

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  2. I’m a recently diagnosed diabetic, and participate in online support groups. People say things like, “we’re carb intolerant”, as if it’s lactose intolerant. It’s annoying.

    I have to hold my tongue. That’s absurd, because we’re digesting carbs rapidly.

    I’m lactose intolerant, and milk doesn’t raise my blood sugar, because I can’t digest the milk sugars. My intestinal flora eat it up, and I get gas, or cramps and diarrhea. I’m not allergic to milk. If I accidentally drink some, I won’t die. I’ll just be on the toilet a few hours, doubled over in pain.

    I don’t think I’ve seen “we’re allergic to carbs” yet, but I’m sure someone, somewhere, has said it. I can eat plenty of carbs. My blood glucose will rise, and I’ll eventually start feeling sick, and eventually have complications, and could die a painful death.

    It’s still not an allergy.

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  3. I’m extremely sensitive to gluten. I don’t go out to eat anymore, because I get told, oh you can have the farro (ARE YOU TRYING TO KILL ME?) or they go “oh you are gluten-free, that means no potatoes, right?” ARGH.

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  4. My shampoo is labelled gluten-free – this is when I realized that the label no longer has any sense or reason and is 100% fad related.

    As a toddler I was tested and found to have a milk intolerance that could be an allergy, but they couldn’t tell from just the blood test. They did an elimination diet that was also inconclusive. So the doctor told my mom to continue giving me dairy since it’s in the food guide and it’s important that I have dairy – I was to be given only the minimum of 2 servings/day so I would grow properly. (I wonder if that would still be the case today…)

    Now that I’m older I don’t believe it is an allergy, but I’m still sensitive to dairy. I find cheese & yogurt are OK if I don’t have a lot of them, but I won’t drink milk because it always makes me feel off. The only push back I get is when I tell the person at subway I don’t want cheese…they find that a bit odd and ask if I’m sure.

    I’m sure as your baby grows you’ll have to test, learn, and adapt as you go, in this and all things. You got this.

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  5. Actually, I’m glad they are labelling shampoo and soap and such gluten-free. I’ve gotten glutened from odd stuff… my hair ends up in my mouth… I’ve gotten glutened from lipstick and lip gloss. They put wheat protein in all kinds of strange places these days… (I do wonder that’s why so many people are becoming so sensitive.. common allergens are in everything!)

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