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Cow milk for infants: A tradition best forgotten

When it comes to nutritional practices and beliefs,many women seem to place great faith in our tradition.

When it comes to nutritional practices and beliefs,many women seem to place great faith in our tradition. Though there is much that is important and useful in our folklore,in matters of health it is always safe to err on the side of caution. This maxim is particularly relevant in the context of the use of animal milk for infants.

In our land,when an infant is weaned from mother’s milk,it has traditionally been the practice to replace the mother’s milk with cow’s milk. This can have unpleasant consequences. One of the most common food allergies happens to be the allergy to milk (both cow’s and buffalo’s milk). Data suggests that cow milk allergy affects more than 2 per cent of the infant population all over the world.

The reason for developing this allergy seems to be quite straightforward.

Animal milk is usually the first foreign protein that is encountered by an infant. In fact,the American Academy of Pediatrics advises against consumption of cow’s milk (or buffalo’s milk) in the first year of an infant’s life. Such animal milk is erroneously considered an appropriate replacement for breast milk or infant formula milk.

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There are many reasons as to why such milk is not the best choice.

• It does not provide adequate Vitamin C or iron and on the other hand has excessive sodium and protein.

• Feeding an infant who is less than one year old with cow’s milk increases the risk of anaemia and cow milk allergy.


• Once an individual develops the cow milk allergy,it makes one susceptible to other allergies as well. This is the reason why even a soya formula often does not work for a child with cow milk allergy. The only solution,in such a situation,is to provide a chicken or pulse-based feed,which can be prepared at home.

The following are the symptoms by which one may know if a child suffers from milk allergy:

• Excessive colic

• Recurrent diarrhoea

• Nausea,abdominal pain

• Rash,hives and eczema

• Chronic running nose

• Nasal stuffiness / recurrent ear infections

• Failure to thrive

Confusions surrounding Milk Allergy

There is also a great deal of confusion about what exactly is milk allergy. The common perception is to confuse lactose intolerance with milk allergies.


Lactose intolerance is the inability to digest milk sugar (lactose) due to a deficiency of an enzyme (Lactase),whereas food allergies are those reactions where the body’s immune system reacts to the protein in the food by producing antibodies. This is exactly the same situation when the body reacts to an antigen.

If a person experiences adverse symptoms without producing antibodies,then the reaction cannot be labeled as an allergy. Thus,one should not confuse lactose intolerance with milk allergy.

Children who are allergic to milk can usually take lactose safely. In fact,in a recent double-blind placebo-controlled study,children with proven milk allergies were fed lactose without adverse reactions. Cow milk allergies usually get better as children grow up (usually by about 3 years). Lactose intolerance usually gets worse,although lactose intolerant children can handle small amounts of lactose happily.

Interestingly,a child who was being fed solely on his mother’s milk developed an allergy that had all the features of cow milk allergy. Further investigation revealed that small amounts of cow milk protein —from the milk consumed by the mother — was being passed through breast milk to the infant,causing the symptoms. As soon as the mother excluded all dairy products from her diet,the symptoms disappeared. Of course,she was asked to take calcium supplements and she continued to breast feed.

First published on: 13-06-2009 at 12:59:52 am
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