The most common food allergy or sensitivity among babies is to cows’ milk protein, found in most formula. And about half of infants who are sensitive to cows’ milk are also sensitive to soy-based formula. Some of the most obvious signs of this sensitivity include a rash, hives, eczema (dry, flaky patches of skin, especially around the forehead), and vomiting.
You should be aware of more subtle clues, too. Shortly after you’ve started or finished a feeding, watch for signs such as continual fussiness or crying and obvious discomfort. Your baby may be excessively gassy or seem “colicky.” He may have a red ring around his rectum that a zinc oxide preparation won’t clear up. Or he may have stools that are unusually hard or excessively loose, watery, and foul smelling. Your baby may spit up more often than is considered normal, too.
Allergies in general seem to be on the rise. One way to reduce the number and severity of your baby’s allergies is to breastfeed exclusively for at least six months. If your family has a history of allergies, find out how you and your partner were fed as infants and whether you had any adverse reactions. Ask your baby’s healthcare provider about the best ways to help your baby avoid potential allergens.
If your baby is showing signs and symptoms of a formula allergy, check with your child’s doctor before switching to a new formula.
How do I know if my baby has an allergy?
Some babies are allergic to the protein in cow’s milk formula. Symptoms of an allergic reaction may include:
- abdominal pain
- blood or mucus in the baby’s stools
Report any of these symptoms to your baby’s doctor, and follow his or her advice on switching to a special hypoallergenic formula. But even if the doctor suspects an allergy, don’t spend too much time worrying that your child might be allergic forever. Kids often outgrow milk protein allergies within a few years.
Is soy formula safe for my baby?
Most doctors usually recommend giving babies cow’s milk formula unless there seems to be an allergy or intolerance, in which case the doctor may recommend soy or hypoallergenic formula. Soy formula — with added iron — is as nutritious as cow’s milk-based formula. The problem is that many babies who are allergic to cow’s milk are also allergic to the protein in soy formulas, so it may not be helpful in these cases.
Some parents may worry after hearing or reading about certain soy concerns, particularly about phytoestrogens (hormone-like chemicals from plants) that are found in soy formulas. These concerns need to be studied further, but so far research has not found definite evidence that soy formulas negatively affect a child’s development or reproductive system.
Soy formula should be used under the direction of your doctor, but it can be an alternative to cow’s milk formula for full-term infants. However, soy formulas are not recommended for premature infants.