Starting to eat solid food is an important milestone in your baby’s life. It is a fun and exciting time for both parents and children. However, weaning can also be a source of worry, and weaning a child with cow’s milk allergy can be particularly challenging. Apart from having to ensure your infant’s diet contains no cow’s milk, the process of weaning is the same as for infants without cow’s milk allergy. Be sure to talk to your doctor or dietitian before you begin.

Why is weaning important?    

During the first year of life, your baby grows more quickly than at any other time. This rapid growth means that they need increasing amounts of energy and nutrients. For the first few months after birth, babies get everything they need from breast milk or infant formula. However, as they get bigger they require additional sources of nutrition, in the form of solid foods.

As infants are weaned onto solid foods, their intake of breast milk and/or formula can start to decrease. As children with cow’s milk allergy can’t have dairy products, there is a risk that they can miss out on some essential nutrients. It is therefore important that you speak to your doctor or dietitian for advice to ensure your child gets all the nutrients they need, for example by still including breast milk or Nutramigen formula in their diet. Find out about how best to use Nutramigen when weaning infants with cow’s milk allergy.

When to start weaning

Most experts recommend that weaning should begin around age 6 months (26 weeks).

Signs that your baby may be ready to accept solid foods include:

  • They can hold their head steady and stay in a sitting position
  • They can coordinate their eyes, hands and mouth so that they can look at food, pick it up and put it in their mouth
  • They can swallow food

Ideally, babies with cow’s milk allergy should be well and symptom-free when weaning begins.

The importance of variety

It is a good idea to use this time of weaning as an opportunity to introduce a wide variety of foods. Early experiences of flavours and food textures are an adventure for babies and set the stage for life-long eating habits. The more flavours infants experience from an early age, the more ready and willing they tend to be to try new foods when they are older.  Varied foods and flavours are also more likely to provide your baby with the range of nutrients they need, which is particularly important for infants with cow’s milk allergy.

As weaning progresses it’s important to introduce your baby to different textures too, such as runny, lumpy, chewy and crunchy, to help them develop chewing skills and the muscles needed for speech development. Around 8-10 months of age, finger foods provide a great opportunity for babies to feed themselves and also practise their hand–eye coordination skills! Ideas include:

  • Steamed vegetable sticks
  • Fruit sticks
  • Rice cakes
  • Well-cooked pasta shapes
  • Fingers of toast or pitta bread

Don’t forget to always check that the food doesn’t contain any cow’s milk.

Which foods contain cow’s milk protein?

The most obvious sources of cow’s milk protein are dairy products, such as:

Cow’s milk (fresh/UHT)

  • Yogurt
  • Fromage frais
  • Cheese
  • Butter
  • Ghee
  • Margarine
  • Curd
  • Cream/artificial cream
  • Ice cream
  • Milk drinks
  • Milk powder
  • Quark
  • Evaporated/ condensed milk

Cow’s milk protein can also be found in less obvious foods such a bread, biscuits, cakes, ready-made baby foods and processed meats. The following are all terms to look out for on food labels and avoid:

  • Casein (curds)
  • Hydrolysed caseinates (note that extensively hydrolysed caseinates are ok)
  • Whey/whey solids
  • Whey protein
  • Hydrolysed whey (note that extensively hydrolysed whey proteins are ok)
  • Lactalbumin
  • Milk sugar
  • Lactoglobulin
  • Skimmed milk powder
  • Milk solids
  • Milk protein
  • Non-fat milk solids
  • Butterfat
  • Modified milk

When you introduce new foods into your child’s diet, it’s a good idea to keep track of them and note any reactions that occur to help you look for possible connections and to share with your doctor or dietitian. This is especially useful if reactions are delayed and not obviously associated with a particular food. Download our food and symptom diary to use for this.

Advice and support

Download A parent’s guide to cow’s milk allergy: From diagnosis to weaning and beyond, which is full of advice on introducing solid foods to an infant with cow’s milk allergy plus a range of nutritious milk-free recipes. Also take a look at our practical tips to guide you through the weaning process.