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How To Tell If Your Baby Needs Dairy Free Formula

Does your infant’s doctor tell you they have dairy allergies? Do you see symptoms of dairy allergies in your baby but still think it may be something else?

Dairy allergies are prevalent, and the dairy free formula is effective. However, some babies may not get dairy-free recipes because their diagnosis isn’t strong enough. Or perhaps they are allergic to dairy protein, but not lactose (sugar) – meaning the allergy will be worse on a dairy free formula that doesn’t contain lactose. Let’s get into how to figure out if your baby needs dairy-free formula or just milk-protein-free formula.

Humans do not digest some dairy proteins. When dairy proteins reach the colon, they ferment, producing substances that draw water into the colon and carry toxins from the body, which can cause diarrhea.

In dairy allergy, dairy protein causes a systemic immediate-type allergic reaction within minutes or a few hours of dairy ingestion. Symptoms include skin rashes and eczema; sinus congestion; nasal drip; gas; stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhea and vomiting; swollen

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Does Your Baby Have Symptoms of Dairy Allergies?

Symptoms of dairy allergies in infants include:

– unexplained weight loss (failure to thrive)

– chronic diarrhea

Symptoms, not test results, diagnose many dairy allergies. If your doctor is still unsure whether dairy allergies are the real problem after discussing symptoms with you, specific tests can be done. These tests should not be used as a first step because they take time and aren’t entirely reliable. Depending on how much dairy protein your child eats during testing days, they may tell different stories. More information about these dairy allergy tests can be found here.

If dairy allergies are likely, there are usually no invasive diagnostic procedures for confirmation other than seeing improvement with dairy free formula or milk-protein-free formula. The only instance where further diagnostics would be helpful is if dairy protein sensitivity (not allergy) is suspected. Sensitivity does not cause an immune response, so dairy free formula or milk-protein-free formula would not help because it contains dairy protein. This means dairy protein sensitivity may only be detected by food challenge tests which are also invasive and not recommended for small children.

If dairy allergies are likely but dairy free formula doesn’t help, the next step is to consider whether lactose could be fueling your baby’s symptoms.

These symptoms may seem like dairy intolerance, but it’s infrequent for dairy intolerance to occur in infants because they don’t eat enough dairy products to cause this problem. If you hear ‘lactose intolerance’ as a dairy allergy alternative, you can explain to your doctor how dairy intolerance usually isn’t an issue until toddlers start eating dairy products.

What is Dairy Free Formula?

Dairy-free formula contains the same ingredients as a regular dairy formula: whey protein, casein protein, and lactose. Lactose is a carbohydrate made from dairy milk used as a sweetener in dairy free formula. The critical difference between dairy-free formula and the dairy formula is protein. The regular dairy formula has cow’s milk protein, while the dairy free formula has soy or rice protein. If you’ve been told that your baby needs milk protein-free formula instead of dairy-free, this may be because they don’t understand dairy protein vs. dairy free formula.

There are two main types of dairy-free formula: soy and rice protein. Physicians favor rice protein dairy free formula because it contains more amino acids, which helps with growth, than soy protein dairy free formula (which usually only includes the minimum required amount for infants).

However, there is a controversial link between cow’s milk allergies and rice dairy free formula. It is not yet known whether the link exists or not, but this means some doctors avoid prescribing rice dairy free formula even if symptoms seem to indicate dairy proteins as opposed to lactose (sugar) intolerance. Also, although soy dairy-free formula doesn’t contain enough nutrients like iron, calcium, and vitamin D, most babies tolerate it well. Usually, they do not have problems with soy dairy free formula.

You might be wondering whether your baby can handle dairy even if they had a cow’s milk allergen test that came back negative. The simple answer is yes, they probably can. If you have already tried dairy free formula without any relief of symptoms, then there are several possible explanations for symptom recurrence:

#1) You didn’t wait long enough for the dairy-free formula to take effect.

#2) Your dairy allergy test is inaccurate.

#3) Your baby tested negative for dairy allergies but had some reactions that were not detected by the allergen tests.

#4) Dairy-free formula isn’t enough.

If you are still feeding dairy to your baby because they never got relief from dairy-free formula after trying it for at least a couple of weeks, then you should talk with your doctor about further dairy allergy testing. Unfortunately, this means more invasive procedures that some parents are uncomfortable doing on their infants. This also means more out-of-pocket costs since most health insurance policies do not cover food allergen challenge tests in children under five years old.   

What if my baby Doesn’t Like Dairy Free Formula?

If a dairy-free formula isn’t agreeable to your baby, then there are other dairy-free milk alternatives that you can try instead. Coconut milk, for example, is dairy-free and an excellent alternative to dairy milk or dairy free formula. You may also make your dairy-free formula by blending various plant milk.

Regardless of why dairy free formula was ineffective at relieving your baby’s symptoms, they mustn’t continue ingesting cow’s dairy products which could cause further problems down the road  (such as the increased risk for childhood obesity or various types of cancer). Since switching diets is never easy, no matter how old you are, allow plenty of time to acclimate your baby to dairy-free formula before giving up.


Dairy-free formula and dairy-free are terms that mean the same thing. If your baby needs dairy-free formula, you should not give dairy products to them because they have a dairy allergy. The critical difference between dairy-free formula and dairy-free milk is that dairy-free formula contains soy or rice dairy-free formula, which is nutritionally incomplete compared to dairy-free milk. You can read more about dairy-free formula vs. dairy free here.

If the dairy-free formula isn’t working for your baby’s symptoms, then you should talk to your doctor about further testing and possible dairy allergy treatments. For other alternatives, consider feeding them dairy-free formula made from coconut.

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