This last week we had a bitter experience dining out with our son, again!! We asked and gave a million assurances, instructions and warnings that the food we ordered for him should not contain dairy as our son has milk allergies. However, babyT still broke out into hives with the first spoon of his meal. I had to rush back home to administer his emergency medication, soothe him, find ways to decongest his nasal blockage & generally comfort him so that he felt better – physically and emotionally.
I am shocked at how unaware people in the food industry are about food allergies and intolerances. Mainstream dining and food products still contain the major allergen – MILK. And that brings me to the topic of discussion today milk allergies in infants.
Milk Allergies in infants? You’re joking right!
I really do wish I was!
As a nation of cow worshippers, people in India find it really hard to believe that someone, especially a baby can be averse to consuming milk or any of its by-products.
I am met with puzzled scepticism about how a child cannot consume milk or related foods. People just don’t seem to get it. Ok, if I manage to convince them that he CANNOT have milk, they will offer him chocolates, or biscuits. “One biscuit won’t harm him. Let him enjoy” I am advised.
A tiny little percentage understand it, but then are unable to fathom why you cannot feed ghee to a child – “How will you cook his food then, if not in shuddh desi ghee?”
What KILLS me every day is the fact that most people who hear about my son’s condition either do not believe me, think we are exaggerating or worse making it up, or feel we caused it in some way. Sorry, we passed on the wrong genes to our child.
Milk allergies in infants is a bigger concern when it comes to infant nutrition. We, for one, did not even realise he is sensitive to dairy until he consumed milk directly at the age of 10 months.
Thankfully for me, I was able to breastfeed my child & provide him with vital nutrition. Breastfeeding has been a beautiful journey for us. But somewhere inside it always gnawed at me that for some babies breast is not always possible and nor is it best.
While my child is allergic only to animal milk and safe to consume breastmilk, there are many out there who are deprived of vital baby food because of milk sensitivities.
That is why I need to talk about this a lot more!
Allergy or intolerance – what’s the difference
While in common parlance the terms dairy allergy or lactose intolerance are used interchangeably, they are vastly different. Yet Cow’s Milk allergy, Lactose Intolerance & Galactosemia are all forms of sensitivities to dairy or milk. But we all know that milk is vital nutrition for babies. When babies are deprived of this very source of baby food; their life, physical growth and brain development is threatened.
There are three main areas of milk allergies in infants that exist:
- Cow’s Milk “Protein” allergy
- Lactose intolerance
Cow’s Milk allergy
Cow’s milk allergy or cow milk protein intolerance (CMPI) is when there is an abnormal reaction by the body’s immune system to PROTEIN found in cow’s milk. The very same immune system that protects our body from bacteria and viruses, identifies the protein present in milk as a threat and fights it.
The reason why this occurs is still under research and may someday help us find a way to combat the condition.
In my utter frustration one day, I wrote a fictional piece about the rise of milk allergies. Read it here. Do you think this could be something we learn in the future?
The most common symptoms of CMPI are common allergic reactions like hives, rashes, wheezing, runny nose, sneezing. Gastrointestinal symptoms like vomiting, stomach pain, blood in the stools, and diarrhoea occur. Skin manifestations also include eczema and facial swelling. I had always found that babyT’s eczema got worse after an exposure to animal milk, I just never put two and two together until much later.
Symptoms of CMPI can either manifest immediately upon being exposed to cow’s milk – within 2 hours or it can be delayed – 48 hours to 1 week after coming into contact with cow’s milk.
The reason I write exposed or contact here because sometimes the sensitivity can arise even when he does not consume it directly – like the time I ate cheese sauce pasta and kissed my baby on his cheeks, only for him to break out in hives.
All types of milk contain a sugar called lactose which is broken down by the enzyme lactase. If you are lactose intolerant, the enzyme lactase is missing in your digestive system or present in low quantities. Thus your body cannot use the lactose in milk to provide energy. The undigested lactose can produce uncomfortable symptoms.
Symptoms of LI are mostly to do with the gastrointestinal system and include – diarrhoea, excessive colic, loose & watery stools with signs of blood, gas – trapped wind, flatulence, vomiting & a highly unsettled baby.
LI can be primary – when you are born with it or acquire it at some point of your life, or secondary – when the gut gets damaged by a prolonged illness and is usually temporary.
Galactosemia means “galactose in the blood”. Babies with this condition are not able to digest the sugar form galactose found primarily in breast milk, cow’s milk, and dairy products (and some foods too.) When this happens the galactose builds up in the tissues and blood in large amounts. This can cause damages to the body and even be fatal.
It is a genetic condition and a recessive disease that the child inherits from both parents.
Signs of galactosemia can manifest within a few days of birth i.e. upon consumption of breast milk or formula – general unrest & low infant cognition, low blood sugar, refusal to feed, vomiting (usually projectile), yellowing of the skin, seizures and cataracts. If unchecked then it can cause organ failure (organs that may be affected include brain, liver and kidneys) and lead to DEATH too.
Life can be tough for those with galactosemia. Even with proper care and precaution they may not always be able to lead wholesome and fulfilling lives.
What are the solutions where you find milk allergies in infants?
Breast is best, but not always, as we see now.
Babies with CMPI can have breast milk and some studies have shown that providing breast milk to babies with CMPI helps curb the allergy over time. Fingers crossed for us.
However, breastmilk may contain traces of cow’s milk protein from the foods the mother consumes. And hence it is advised that the mother completely eliminate dairy from her diet. I did this and turned dairy free until the time I was breastfeeding babyT. I have developed a liking for soya milk chai and coconut milk kheer since then. I felt immensely healthy & active too.
To be safer, Doctors may also prescribe an extensively hydrolyzed formula, also known as a hypoallergenic formula. These are made up of broken down proteins which are possible to be digested without an immune reaction. In some patients, it may be necessary to use amino-acid based formulas. Brands such as Alimentum and Isomil are suitable.
These two products are also suitable for children with Galactosemia.
For babies and children with LI, lactose-free formulas are available. Brands available in India are Isomil, Nusobee, Nan Lo-Lac, L-Free.
The good news for children suffering from lactose intolerance and CMPI is that they can outgrow their sensitivities. 3 years of age is a good benchmark for this. Else they disappear around the 6 to 8-year mark or teens. Some do carry on till adulthood.
But managing life around these conditions is challenging but doable. I hope to bring you more life stories and cases with my blog. Hopefully, it raises the spirits of other parents who have been given the news and are feeling like their world is over. To such families, I assure you, the journey is difficult but definitely not less interesting or fun.
Disclaimer: This blog aims to sensitise people about infant allergies and the possible solutions. This is not meant to replace certified medical advice. Ideally, consult a paediatric allergy specialist doctor if you seek help.