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Health & Baby

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The ABCs of Formulas

Figuring Out Formula Problems

Most babies do just fine on cow's milk formula, but a small percentage of infants can't tolerate it because of lactose intolerance (an inability to break down the lactose sugar in milk) or an allergy to the proteins in milk.

Brown says it's very rare for babies to be born with lactose intolerance. Most of the time, lactose intolerance doesn't start until after a child's first birthday.

About 2% to 3% of babies have a milk protein allergy, in which the baby's immune system mistakenly sees the milk protein as a foreign invader and attacks it. Most babies eventually outgrow their milk allergy.

Spotting Formula Problems

How can you tell whether your baby really has a milk allergy? Common symptoms include rash, wheezing, upset stomach, vomiting, and diarrhea. Although less common, Joanne Cox, MD, associate chief of General Pediatrics at Children's Hospital Boston adds that blood in the stool is a tell-tale sign.

Call your pediatrician if you notice blood in your baby's stools, or any of the other symptoms of a milk allergy:

An allergist can test your baby for a milk protein allergy.

Which Formula Should I Try?

If your baby has a true milk allergy, here's a rundown of the non-cow's milk formulas you can try:


Soy formula is an option for babies with lactose intolerance. However, some babies with milk allergy have the same reaction to soy formula as they do to cow's milk formula.

Some parents put their babies on soy formula because they think it's easier to digest. Yet there is lack of evidence that soy formulas are helpful for babies with milk protein allergy or colic, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

The AAP recommends that use of soy formula be limited to babies with the rare disorders galactosemia or congenital lactase deficiency, which prevents the body from breaking down sugars in cow’s milk.

Hydrolyzed or Hypoallergenic

These formulas are most helpful for the small number of babies who have a true milk protein allergy. Research finds that hydrolyzed formulas can help improve allergy symptoms, and they also help allergic babies gain weight better than regular formulas. Some babies at high risk for allergies may also benefit from this type of formula. Your pediatrician would be able to tell you whether your baby should be using hydrolyzed formula.

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