Is My Baby Allergic to Formula?

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There are many reasons why some parents choose to use formula for their babies.  The most common reason is that it isn’t always possible to breastfeed the child.  While breastfeeding is an important part of being a parent, there is a great deal of shame that comes along when someone finds that they cannot breastfeed.  This shame is something that can sometimes prevent a worried parent from talking about the effects that formula may be having on their child out of fear of judgment.  

If you are one of these parents who is using primarily formula to feed their child and is worried that their child may be having an allergic reaction, have no fear.  This is a safe place.  Sometimes the signs that a baby is allergic to formula can be something as small as a tummy ache to some more serious problems.  As a parent of a baby, you notice everything.  Even the slightest change to their bodies can lead you to ask yourself, is my baby allergic to formula?  Here is everything you need to know!

What is formula?

Formula is a perfectly healthy and acceptable substitute for breast milk.  There are many reasons why a baby is drinking formula instead of breast milk.  Whether you are just using formula to supplement or are using only formula, it is important to know what exactly is the formula you are using before you ask yourself is my baby allergic to formula?  

While there are many different forms of baby formula, the one thing that is always the same is the base of what formula is.  Baby formula is an enriched mix of proteins and other daily nutrients that your baby needs in order to grow up big, strong and healthy.  This is because many infants are not yet eating solid foods so they need to get 100% of their daily vitamins from formula alone.  The structure of baby formula was made to almost mimic the amount of nutrients that would be found in breast milk in order to give your child the best shot possible at a healthy start to life.  

There are many different forms in which you can introduce formula for your baby.  The most popular way is in powder form.  This finely milled powder is meant to be mixed in with some warm water so that it dissolves smoothly for easy digestion.  Once the water and powder is mixed, it should closely resemble breast milk down to the taste which is said to be sweet rich milk.  There are other ways to give your child formula if you are nervous about the powder.  There are some brands that have a pre-mixed formula that comes in liquid form but it should be said that these types of formula are much more expensive. 

Types of formula

Is you are asking yourself, is my baby allergic to formula?  You need to first check what type of formula you are using.  There are so many different brands and styles, some which are not always milk based which could be the reason for your child’s allergic reaction.

  • Milk formula

Milk based formula is the most common of baby formula.  This milk based powder is high in calcium and doesn’t have any extra additives.  This is the type of formula that most parents start out using when making the switch.

  • Soy formula

Soy based baby formula is a great option for families who live a dairy free or vegan life.  Soy formula is also recommended for babies who suffer from some sort of milk allergy or who have an aversion to lactose.  

  • Sensitive formula 

Sensitive formula is often times the step between milk formula and soy formula.  This special blend of formula was made with special stomach aiding proteins that help children who suffer from digestion problems easily breakdown formula.

  • Plant based formula 

While soy formula is the most popular of the diary free formula blends, there are some other plant based formulas out there.  This is a great option for dairy free families who also find that their child is having a reaction to soy.  It should be said, however, that these types of formula will come with a higher price tag.

  • Extra formula

There are a handful of other types of formula that have a little bit something extra to help your child.  There are formulas with extra DHA which help your child’s brain and eye development.  This is often times a great option for premature babies or ones that need a little bit of a boost.  Another popular extra formula is the ones that have extra iron which will help your child with digestion.

Why are some babies allergic to formula?

With so many health benefits to baby formula, it may be surprising to know that so many babies can be allergic to it.  This makes many people wonder why this is true.  A formula allergy has little to do with the actual formula and more to do with the milk proteins.  Some babies have extremely sensitive tummies which mean that they have a harder time breaking down these types of milk proteins which can lead to some pretty unpleasant nights.  While the cause can be different from a case to case basis, most of the time it has to do with a baby’s immune system. 

This is why a baby formula allergy is most commonly found in infants who already are suffering from a preexisting immune system disorder.  If your baby doesn’t have a problem with their immune system you may be asking yourself, is my baby allergic to formula?  While this is the most common scenario, that doesn’t mean that your child can’t be allergic to formula if their immune system is in top shape.  Sometimes it can be as simple as your child just has a reaction to specifically cow’s milk.   This is because basic formula is a blend of cow’s milk which can be loaded with hormones which has been known to cause some reactions in infants.

Why a child might allergic to formula could also be due to the type of formula you are using.  Many people, including babies, have a soy plant allergy.  So if you are using a soy formula, the fix could be as easy as switching to a different plant based formula.  It could also have a lot to do with the extra additives in the nutrients in baby’s formula.  If this is the case, you might want to look into using a formula that is organic and free of any additives.

Is my baby allergic to formula?

To know whether or not your baby is allergic to formula, you have to know what the signs are to look out for.  While these are the most common symptoms of a formula allergy, it doesn’t mean that your child will have all of them at once.  Your child may only be showing one or two signs of a formula allergy which is more than enough to send you into a worrying tailspin.  Here are some things to look out for!

One of the most common signs of a formula allergy is an upset tummy.  This is simply because your child is having a hard time breaking down the milk proteins.  This can lead to sleepless nights because of constipation and acid reflux.  More severe cases of formula allergy can actually lead to diarrhea which sometimes can be paired with blood in the stool.  Any type of blood when it comes to your baby can be a scary thing.  If you notice that your baby has blood in their stool, do not hesitate!  Contact their pediatrician immediately to see if the formula allergy is the main cause of this discomfort.

One of the signs of a formula allergy is actually surprising to most parents.  These symptoms closely resemble a cold or flu because of the sinus reactions.  Children get runny noses, scratchy throats and even can run a low grade fever.  When you think about seasonal allergies and how your body reacts, it isn’t too farfetched to think that your baby would have similar symptoms to a formula allergy.  The same signs happen in other common food allergies like nuts and wheat, and these signs can often times mean that your child has a more serious allergy to the formula.

Skin reactions are one of the most common signs of a formula allergy.  This can be anything small like a few red bumps to something more serious like a full body of hives.  This is often times the first sign that you will notice if your child has a formula allergy.  It should be noted that it doesn’t always have to be a rash to tip you off either.  Sometimes some babies just have a slight discoloration in their skin causing it to appear to be red and inflamed.

While most of these signs and symptoms can vary from mild to severe, there is one sign that is more serious than other.  In a small amount of babies who have a formula allergy, they will experience respiratory issues.  This means that it can be something as little as wheezing to something more serious like your child not being able to catch their breath.  Breathing problems are a danger with any allergy and are especially scary in newborns.  

What to do if your baby is allergic to formula 

The first thing you should do when wondering, is my baby allergic to formula, is to call their doctor.  That is the only way to get a definitive answer to this important question.  In the doctor’s office they should be able to perform an allergy test.  This means that they will introduce formula to your child, or just key ingredients that can cause your child to have an allergic reaction like milk.  They will then do a series of tests to tell if formula has been the main culprit to your child’s suffering.  It is important to detail all of the signs and symptoms that your child is having so that they can get a better understanding of how your child is reacting.  This way they can have a plan to move forward.

If you have yet to visit your child’s pediatrician and are just starting to notice signs of a formula allergy, stay calm.  While there are some serious cases of formula allergy that can have some fatal outcomes, it is important to not worry or upset your child.  This can only aspirate their symptoms which can make things worse.  If you think your child is having a severe reaction, do not hesitate to call the ER.  It is always better to be safe than sorry, especially when it comes to the health and safety of your baby.  

It is also important to know that you are not alone.  If you are on a journey of dealing with a baby with a food or formula allergy, there is a great network of other parents that are going through the same thing.  This way you can get some great advice from people who have been through it and know exactly what you are feeling.

How to treat a formula allergy

Treatment plans will vary based on case by case, but the steps to treat a formula allergy follow pretty much the same guidelines.  This plan will be set out for you by your child’s doctor, but here is what to expect.  Most commonly, if your child has a allergy to the milk based formula, you will more than likely be advised to switch to soy or a plant based milk.  This also means that your child may have a lactose problem for most of their lives so it is good to know that you have a handle on things from the beginning.

When it comes to treating a formula allergy, it is going to be full of trial and error.  This can lead many parents to panic because if they are not able to breastfeed and their child is allergic to formula, what are they supposed to do?  Do not fear, your child’s doctor will not let them starve!  Sometimes it can be as simple as treating the symptoms first.  There are plenty of creams and topical treatments that are perfectly safe for your baby that can help them with their skin reactions, all which can be prescribed and recommended by their doctor.  Other symptoms, however, can be a little trickier.

There is a great type of formula that has been developed specifically with babies who have a formula allergy.  This hypoallergenic formula has just the bare bones of what your child needs to develop and grow up healthy and strong without any of those allergy causing additives.  There are even some hypoallergenic formulas that are prescription only which are perfect for those little ones who suffer from a more severe form of formula allergy.

It is also important to remember that a child will only need formula for the first year of their life, so it isn’t the end of the world if they have a small allergy.  Most babies can continue to use formula or use another variation of formula while still remaining healthy, happy and symptom free.  It is an old wife’s tale that a formula allergy is a sign of things to come.  This isn’t true.  Most babies who have had an allergic reaction to formula went on to live completely allergy free lives.  It has more to do with how sensitive their little digestive symptoms are which can’t be controlled.  Whichever side of the allergy scales your child falls on; remember that you do not have to do it alone.  Let their doctor guide you in the right direction and with the right tools and information there is no reason why your child can’t grow up strong. 

Wrapping it up!

Wondering, is my baby allergic to formula, can be a scary thing.  Most parents jump out of their skin at the first sight of even the slightest rash, with good reason.  With all of the scary stories surrounding children and harmful food allergies, it is completely normal to be stressed out about your baby’s allergy to formula.  This is especially true since formula is such an important part of their young life.  It should bring you some peace of mind to know that unlike other allergies, a formula allergy is completely manageable.  Just remember to look for these signs:

  • Digestive problems
  • Breathing issues
  • Skin reactions
  • Runny nose
  • Low grade fever
  • Throat pain
  • Blood in stool
  • Skin discoloration

If you do get confirmation from the pediatrician that your child does indeed have an allergy to formula, follow their instructions carefully.  After all, your child’s pediatrician will know best because they have been there before.  As the parent, however, you do know best.  So if you see and change in your child’s health or behavior, be sure to alert their doctor right away.  You are your child’s champion after all!  Good luck and take care. 

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