Parents and Kids

Feeding Your Baby: Milk Allergies and Formula Alternatives

With a national infant formula shortage, some people are looking for alternatives to milk for their babies. Our experts share what is safe, what to feed your baby – and what not to use.

May. 11, 2022 5   min read

There is currently a national shortage of infant formula, affecting supply on retail store shelves. This is creating a difficult situation for young parents and families who may be dependent on formula to feed their babies – for a variety of reasons.

Peter Capucilli, MD, is an Allergy and Immunology provider and Pediatrician, and Virginia Wilson is a Certified Lactation Consultant with Rochester Regional Health. Both share what parents need to know about milk, formula, and alternatives.

Recommended alternatives

Breastfeeding your baby is a great bonding experience – and has many health benefits for both mom and baby. Babies are recommended to consume breast milk exclusively for the first 6 months of life.

For some women who have discussed their baby’s nutrition with lactation consultants and pediatricians, there may be reasons to supplement or formula feed their babies. 

Related: Common Breastfeeding Issues

Before making any decisions, parents or caregivers should discuss nutritional needs and feeding alternatives with their baby’s pediatrician. Their provider may have formula samples on hand to help feed the baby. If the pediatrician does not have samples, there are several locations and programs available in the Rochester area that can help feed babies. These include:

Diagnosing a milk allergy

If you believe your infant is allergic to milk, ask your pediatrician what to do before making decisions that could affect your child’s nutrition. There could be different physiological processes at work.

Young infants sometimes experience milk protein intolerances. This is due to milk proteins passing through breastmilk or being ingested directly through formula. A milk protein intolerance can display as gastrointestinal symptoms such as mucus or blood in the stool.

It is best to speak with your pediatrician immediately if any of these symptoms occur so that the proper dietary changes can be made with close monitoring.

Classic allergic reactions – also known as “anaphylaxis” reactions – tend to develop in the 4-6 months age range and sometimes later when infants begin ingesting solid foods for the first time. Symptoms may include hives, swelling, vomiting, or trouble breathing – all of which occur immediately after ingesting food.

Skin and blood tests performed by a board-certified allergist can help in the diagnosis of this type of allergy.

“If you suspect your baby is experiencing gastrointestinal-related symptoms due to a milk sensitivity or allergy, make an appointment with your pediatrician,” Dr. Capucilli said. “Your provider may refer you to an allergist who can help you and your baby determine what the best next steps might be.”

Important reminders

Do not water down formula

Giving babies a healthy start to life is a priority for parents and caregivers. With this in mind, the most important point stressed by lactation consultants and pediatricians alike is that parents and caregivers should not water down formula to make their supply last.

“Diluting infant formula takes away essential nutrients needed for Baby’s growth and development,” Wilson said. “Please contact your pediatrician or your Women Infants & Children Program (WIC) office for help.”

Wait until 1st birthday for certain milks

Avoid giving any child cow’s milk before they are 12 months old. A baby’s kidneys are not yet ready for this type of milk until that age.

With children ages 12 months and older, parents and caregivers can begin to use soy or pea protein milk as a source of calcium and protein. Alternatives such as coconut, rice, oat, or hemp milk may not have as much of the protein or calcium content that pediatricians want a growing toddler to have.

Related: Making Sure All Babies Get a Healthy Start

Store formula properly

Formula does have a shelf life, so proper storage is essential to ensure optimum nutrition. Most infant formulas need to be used within one month of opening and list this stipulation on the label. Store any formula in a cool, dry place indoors – never inside of a vehicle.

Stay in touch with health providers

Mothers can breastfeed their children for as long as both mother and child are willing and able. The World Health Organization and most pediatricians agree that introducing solid foods should begin when a child is about six months old, which is generally the age when they are able to swallow without a risk of choking, have good head/neck control, and can sit up alone or with support.

If you have questions about your baby’s development, bring them up in conversation with your pediatrician, who can help you know when your baby is ready for solids.

NEXT STEPS Healthy Moms Program

Through this program, Rochester Regional Health aims to help strengthen families and give them a chance at a healthier future.

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