Cow’s milk allergy and infant sleep

Ann Caird, postnatal Doula and infant sleep consultant

Fussiness, sleeplessness and persistent crying in babies and young children is exhausting and distressing for all concerned. When all else has failed, it’s worth considering the possibility that your little one could have an allergy to cow’s milk protein. The proteins can be consumed by infants from formula, solid food or passed through breast milk. The symptoms of cow’s milk allergy are easily confused with – or even mistaken for – colic. Research abstract suggests a strong relationship between cow’s milk allergy and difficulty settling to sleep and staying asleep, the infant wakes frequently and cries repeatedly throughout the night, is fussy and irritable, and the total sleep hours each day can be minimal. Further symptoms that also impede sleep include eczema, skin irritations, gastrointestinal problems and breathing difficulties. The good news is, however, that research abstract demonstrates that eliminating cow’s milk protein results in a return to normal sleep for most infants, and in most cases the allergy resolves itself within 12 to 36 months. So, if cow’s milk allergy is suspected then an elimination diet is usually advised for 2-4 weeks. This means avoiding all dairy in foods, a change of formula and/or eliminating dairy from a breastfeeding mother’s diet. Its worth noting though, that many babies sensitive to or allergic to cow’s milk will be sensitive to goats and/or sheep’s milk, and possibly soya. Other foods that may affect sleep, or induce food allergy insomnia, include soya, wheat, eggs, nuts, chocolate, corn, yeast and red and yellow dyes.

Resolved the allergy but still experiencing poor sleep?

If an infant has had sleep difficulties related to food allergies for a while, then poor sleeping habits may have become habitual. In this case, helping develop self soothing skills, appropriate sleep associations and healthy sleep habits is well worth while, and could result in everyone gaining some much needed sleep at last!

Resources and Further Information.

Kahn, A., et al. (1989). Milk Intolerances in Children with Persistent Sleeplessness: A Double-blind Crossover Evaluation. abstract Paediatrics, 84, 595-603.

Zeretzke, K. Allergies and the Breastfeeding Family: Cow’s Milk Tops the List. New Beginnings, 1998, Vol 15, 4, 100.

Bonyata, K. 2010. Dairy and other Food Sensitivities in Breastfed Babies: Dairy Sensitivity in Babies

Anns new web site can be found by clicking here.

Disclaimer: Doulas and Peer Supporters are not medically trained, so do not diagnose or medically advise. Information provided is to inform parents, and complement but not replace that of a medical professional.


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