Baby food allergies

If your child has a food allergy, their body's immune system mistakes particular foods as harmful. An allergic reaction to food can cause a range of symptoms.
About 2 to 5% of children are sensitive to certain foods but many more parents suspect that a food is causing problems for their baby or toddler.

The foods that most commonly cause problems are milk, eggs, soy, fish, wheat and peanuts. Many children grow out of their food allergies by 12 months so it is important that the condition is monitored carefully to ensure special diets are not continued for longer than necessary.

Baby food allergy symptoms

Symptoms of immediate-onset allergy may occur up to 1 hour after a food has been eaten and include skin itching, rash, vomiting, angioedema (severe swelling caused by fluid gathering beneath the skin's surface) and anaphylaxis (a whole-body allergic reaction that occurs suddenly). Delayed onset reactions are harder to diagnose and may not appear until hours or days after the offending food has been eaten. Possible symptoms include eczema, chronic diarrhoea, colic, tummy ache and slow growth.


Food challenges are an integral part of diagnosis in order to:

  • Detect a specific food that causes symptoms. A positive result confirms the need to exclude that food from the diet.

  • Prove that a specific food is not responsible. If there are no symptoms then the suspected food does not need to be avoided.

Once diagnosed a food causing symptoms should be avoided altogether.

If you’re breastfeeding you may need to exclude foods from your diet. If you exclude milk and milk products from your diet you will need a calcium supplement to ensure adequate calcium.

Formula fed babies can usually be changed to an appropriate specialized feed if necessary.

Advice from a registered dietician is needed to ensure your child’s milk and weaning food intake continues to provide all the necessary nutrients for optimizing growth and development.

Excluding cows' milk protein

There is a range of infant formulas that are called ‘extensively hydrolysed infant formula’. The milk protein in these formulas has been broken down into much smaller pieces so that your baby will continue to have plenty of protein in their diet but the smaller pieces will no longer cause an allergic response.

These milks have an unusual taste and young babies accept them quite readily but older babies might find the taste less acceptable.

In some cases if an improvement in symptoms is not seen an amino acid infant formula (one that is unlikely to cause an allergic reaction) can be used.

Soy formula is a milk-free formula. It is not recommended for babies under 6 months of age because they may cause hormonal problems.

For toddlers over a year old they can continue on their special formula or they can use:
  • Calcium enriched soy milk.

  • Other milks such as those based on oats or almond. When these milks are used the dietician will recommend a vitamin and mineral supplement as these milks cannot be directly substituted for cows’ milk.

  • Rice milk is no longer recommended for children under 5 because there may be small amounts of arsenic present in rice milk.

Please be aware that the information given in these articles is only intended as general advice and should in no way be taken as a substitute for professional medical advice. If you or your family or your child is suffering from symptoms or conditions which are severe or persistent or you need specific medical advice, please seek professional medical assistance. Philips AVENT cannot be held responsible for any damages that result from the use of the information provided on this website.

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