Written by Rhiannon Lambert, Registered Nutritionist and mum-of-two.
In the UK cow's milk allergy affects 2-3% of children. It typically starts in babies under the age of one years old and most outgrow their allergy as they get older. Whilst weaning can be a fun and exciting time for babies and parents alike, sadly for those dealing with allergies or intolerances this can often be a stressful time, trying to navigate free-from baby food products.
Cow’s milk allergy vs intolerance
Cow’s milk allergy (CMA) is common in babies and young children and refers to an allergy to the proteins found in cow’s milk. There are two main types whereby symptoms such as a rash, eczema, or digestive issues like bloating, vomiting or diarrhoea, either occur soon after consumption (immediate CMA) or after several hours or days (delayed CMA). Intolerances to dairy, which is usually an intolerance to the milk sugar lactose, on the other hand are a less common occurrence in this age group, however, intolerances typically happen when the enzymes needed to digest lactose products are not functioning properly or are not present at all.
Dairy foods, including cow’s milk, form a major part of the diet as they help to support growth and development and the maintenance of strong teeth and bones. These foods provide energy and protein, as well as essential vitamins and minerals such as calcium, iodine, vitamin A, vitamin D, and riboflavin.
Dairy free foods to include
If your child is dairy-free due to an allergy or intolerance or if you choose to raise a plant-based or vegan eater, then most foods are safe to eat. Always check the back of the label of pre-packaged foods to make sure that there is no milk or dairy products in foods as there may be traces of dairy in foods that you might not expect. Here are some of my favourite dairy-free foods to give your little ones, which means you don’t have to compromise on high quality nutrition if they don’t eat dairy.
Fruits and veggies
- Berries (raspberries, strawberries, blueberries)
- Sweet potato
- Green beans
Beans and pulses
- Kidney beans
- Black beans
- Edamame beans (soyabeans)
- Butter beans
- Wholemeal pasta
- Brown rice
- Bulgar wheat
Fortified dairy-free alternatives
As your little one won’t be able to consume any dairy products, then finding free-from alternatives is a good option. What’s important to remember here is that many of the nutrients found in milk and other dairy products like yoghurts and cheeses, such as calcium, vitamin D, vitamin B12, and iodine, will not be present in your alternatives. To help ensure that we are minimising the risk of nutrient deficiencies, always look out for food items that are alternatives. Little Freddie are actually the first ever baby food brand to launch an organic dairy free yog*rt that is also a source of calcium- so your baby doesn't miss out!
Calcium is a key nutrient that is found in dairy products, so when dairy is not consumed, it is important to add calcium fortified foods to their diet. Here are some good fortified alternatives:
- Little Freddie's calcium-fortified dairy free yog*rt
- Calcium-set tofu
- Calcium-fortified plant milks
- Almond butter
- Beans and lentils
- Oranges and fortified orange juices (remember orange juice should not be introduced until after the age of 1 years old)
Other foods that may cause an allergic reaction
Parents who have children that experience a dairy allergy or intolerance may be hesitant to introduce other food allergens such as wheat, soya, eggs, and gluten into their baby’s diet. Just because a child has a dairy allergy doesn’t automatically mean they will have allergies to other foods too. When introducing allergens to your child’s diet it’s always best to introduce one food item at a time and then leave at least three days in between each to be able to easily identify foods that evoke a reaction.
As always if you are concerned about your child’s diet or worried that they might be missing out on important nutrition then it’s advised you seek professional health from your child’s GP or a specialist paediatric dietitian.