Cow’s Milk Allergy: A kick in the guts

by Emma Oliver

 So your baby is inconsolable and having trouble feeding. Maybe it’s colic? Or is there more to it? As a mother, sometimes it’s simply a matter of gut instinct…

From one day old, my daughter Esme suffered with severe colic and a burning silent reflux.

Hardly surprising then, she screamed around the clock and that often, I found I wanted to scream along with her.

My G.P. was quick to note that both my husband and I were atopic, and prescribed Baby Gaviscon to help with Esme’s reflux.

My health visitor recommended I continue to breastfeed Esme, but on a dairy free diet.

Giving Esme Baby Gaviscon was such a faff. Prior to each feed, I would express a little bit of milk into an eggcup, mix it with the infant powder, and then feed it to her with a syringe.

Afterwards, I would boil everything up on the stove, so it was sterilised and ready for next time.

It all became so ingrained in my routine that I could do it with my eyes shut. Which was just as well, for like any new mum I was pretty tired. Although I couldn’t blame tiredness for what ensued.

Esme’s screaming had twisted up a notch as it always did after a feed. She screamed because she was hungry, and then she screamed because she was fed.

Emotionally, I found it difficult to tolerate. Cuddling Esme didn’t ease her distress. She refused a dummy. Indeed, rather cruelly, I was unable to comfort her. Nothing helped. I often found myself racing to get out to walk with her, and let’s face it, that was for me to calm down, just as much as it was for her.

This day was no different. Except that this day, I’d put the eggcup and syringe on to boil, and my screaming baby in the pram, rushing out the door.

I walked fast. Not sure where I’d end up. Rather depressingly (but not surprisingly) I found myself in the supermarket. The one place in town where I’d likely find other mothers in a similar state, you know with that look. The haunted look of a new parent with a baby that cries relentlessly.

Somewhere mid aisle, between the chamomile tea and nappies, I became aware that Esme was asleep. For the first time that hour I relaxed and told myself to slow down. I managed to do a full shop. What an achievement… my baby was not only sleeping but the fridge was going to be full. I returned home far less stressed than when I left.

That was short lived. As I walked up the path to my front door, I became aware that the alarm I could hear from the roadside, was actually coming from inside our house. Our home, it would appear, was on fire.

Fortunately, it wasn’t bad; smoke damage. The eggcup and syringe had not only boiled dry, they’d disintegrated. A milk free cup of tea later with my mum, and all was in perspective.

The dairy free diet was rubbish and substituting rice milk for cow’s milk was difficult. I managed, but it wasn’t enough for Esme.

She continued to struggle, arching her back as she tried to feed, latching on, latching off, writhing in pain to the point that she soon stopped gaining weight altogether.

It was then that Esme was put on a hypoallergenic formula that was in fact cow’s milk, but she was able to tolerate it, as it was heavily hydrolysed: A process that breaks the protein in the milk down to the point where it is unrecognisable to the immune system, thus preventing an allergic response.

Under the health visitor’s guidance, I waited until Esme was six months old before weaning her. I was very careful when it came to diary products, yet over the next 18 months Esme suffered with hives, vomiting and wheezing, and was hospitalised several times.

Three years on, Esme’s start was repeated on the allergic front by her sister Sofia, who two days after birth presented with symptoms of silent reflux.

I knew as soon as Sofia began her screaming that I was in for it all over again. My euphoria of having a newborn was replaced with fear and dread as my heart sunk. I had hoped this time it would be different.

It was actually worse. Given time, Sofia’s entire digestive system blistered due to the acid. And tummy pains prevented her from ever sleeping properly.

Pretty much until Sofia turned two, she was blotchy and bad-tempered, passing up to eight green diarrhoea nappies a day.

Sofia only settled after she was given a far stronger drug for reflux; which not only prevented symptoms, but allowed her ulcerated digestive system to heal.

Fortunately, my daughters have since outgrown these issues; (87% of children do by the time they are three), but year on year, the number of food allergy sufferers increases by 5%. Half of those affected are children, with CMA being the most common problem, affecting up to 1 in 14 under the age of three. Half of those however, will have grown out of CMA by the time they turn one.

That first year can be an emotional roller coaster for the parents of a baby with CMA. And clearly, the emotional impact requires guidance and support.

Online, this has already improved greatly from when Esme was a baby.  Food alternative recipes and weaning advice exists on websites such as, a resource for parents and carers of babies and children with special nutritional needs, which Dr. Dawn Harper (of Embarrassing Bodies fame) recently put her name to. As well as Social Media groups with sites such

For myself as a mum of children that have suffered with CMA from birth, it’s my hope that this post might help new parents to be aware that continual crying in young babies may well be reflux (or silent reflux); often the result of allergy. And then, when recognised, if basic treatment for reflux doesn’t relieve the pain, a swift diagnosis of CMA will mean both parents and baby alike receive the help they need; in the form of hypoallergenic formula, medication and support.




What is an allergy?

An adverse reaction produced by the body’s immune system when it encounters a normally harmless substance.


Symptoms of cow’s milk allergy include:

Skin reactions/rashes

Sickness and vomiting and/or diarrhoea

Difficulties breathing


Ways to manage cow’s milk allergy:

Introduction of hypoallergenic formula

Reflux medicine

Elimination of problematic food

Varied diet to ensure nutrients lost due to food avoidance are replaced by other foods the body does not react to


Helpful links:

British Dietetic Association: 

If you think your infant may have a food allergy, talk to your Health Visitor or GP. 

Emma a feature writer on many parenting titles, writes more about allergy issues on her blog LIFE AS IT IS; found 

Emma also tweets @1grace1faith

Posted in Family Life and Parenting and tagged allergies, Cows Milk Allergy, Reflux.

One Comment

  1. Hi Karen, lovely to see this up on your site. Do hope it helps some other parents and carers out there in some way. Emma.

Comments are closed.