Recipes & Diet

Formula Options for Infants with Food Allergies

What to Feed Your Allergic Infant

Infants can develop intolerance or allergy. Breastfed infants  can show symptoms due to food proteins the mother eats passing through her body to her breast milk. Formula fed infants can show symptoms due to not tolerating the food proteins in infant formula.

Food Intolerance

Symptoms of infant food intolerance can vary, but may include colic, reflux or more severe spitting up.

Food Allergy

A food allergy occurs when the body’s immune system sees a certain food as harmful and reacts by causing one or more symptoms. This is known as an allergic reaction.

Foods that cause allergic reactions are called allergens. Even a tiny amount of an allergen can cause a reaction. Allergic reactions usually occur after your child eats a food that she or he is allergic to.

Symptoms of infant food allergy may include:

  • bloody, mucousy stools
  • eczema
  • rash
  • hives
  • severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis)

Breast Milk is Best

Breast milk provides optimal nutrition for an infant. Even babies with food allergies can benefit from breast milk. But, the mother may need some dietary restrictions, also known as an "elimination diet." Many women can continue to breastfeed if they remove allergens from their own diets.

Formula Options for Infants with Food Allergies

If breastfeeding isn't an option, what formula should you introduce to your baby that is showing signs of allergy or intolerance? Here are different types of formula available to you to discuss with your child’s doctor.

Milk-Based Formulas (e.g. Similac® Advance® or Enfamil® Lipil®)

Milk-based formulas offer complete nutrition. But, babies sometimes develop an allergy or intolerance to the cow's milk protein in these formulas.

Soy Formulas (e.g. Isomil®, Prosobee® or Nestlé Good Start Soy®)

Soy formulas are no less allergenic than cow's milk-based formulas. Eight to 14 percent of infants with cow's milk allergy will react to soy. Some infants will develop proctocolitis or enterocolitis. The term enterocolitis refers to the inflammation of the GI tract, which includes both the small and large intestine (colon). The term proctocolitis refers to inflammation of the rectum.

If proctocolitis or enterocolitis occurs, 25 to 60 percent will react to soy formulas. For this reason, soy formulas are not recommended in the treatment of cow's milk allergy.

Partially Hydrolyzed Formulas (e.g. Carnation Good Start®)

Partially hydrolyzed formulas take a cow's milk protein whey, and break it into large pieces. Unfortunately, most babies allergic to cow’s milk will react to these large pieces of milk protein. So, these formulas are not used for infants allergic to cow's milk.

Extensively-Hydrolyzed Formulas (e.g. Alimentum® or Nutramigen®)

Extensively-hydrolyzed formulas are hypoallergenic. They offer complete nutrition for infants who cannot digest intact cow's milk protein. They also help infants who are intolerant or allergic to intact cow's milk protein. These formulas break casein into pieces. Casein is a cow's milk protein. 90 percent of cow's milk-allergic babies will not recognize the piece of protein as an allergen. These formulas are also useful in some cases of malabsorption.

Amino Acid-Based Formulas (e.g. Neocate® or EleCare®)

Amino acid-based formulas offer complete nutrition for infants. These formulas are for infants who are unable to tolerate extensively-hydrolyzed formulas. Amino acid-based formulas are also known as “elemental” formulas.