Milk Allergy: Cow’s Milk vs. Goat’s Milk

May 02, 2016

If your child has been diagnosed with cow’s milk allergy and you are looking for an alternative to cow’s milk formula to feed your baby (or cow’s milk for a child older than one year), you may wonder whether goat’s milk is a good substitute. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), “Most children with cow’s milk allergy are also allergic to milk from goats or sheep, so these are not good substitutes.”

In order to explain why, it’s important to first understand milk allergies. A milk allergy is a reaction between the immune system’s antibodies and the proteins (whey and/or casein) found in milk or cow’s milk formula, causing symptoms such as rashes, vomiting and/or diarrhea. A true milk protein allergy usually appears in the first year of life, when an infant’s digestive system is still quite immature. A person with cow’s milk protein allergy is very likely to also have an allergic reaction to the protein in sheep or goat’s milk because the immune system sees the proteins as similar.

The main strategy for managing a milk protein allergy is to eliminate milk and milk products from the diet.

  • Infants under 12 months who are not breastfed and are found to be allergic to cow’s milk formula may be given alternatives like soy or elemental formula, according to your pediatrician’s advice. Soy-based formula (or soy beverages for children older than one year) may or may not be suitable for milk-allergic infants or children because some who are sensitive to cow’s milk are also unable to tolerate soy protein.
  • A child over the age of one year – the age at which a child can begin drinking cow’s milk -- who has a cow’s milk allergy will need to avoid cheese, yogurt, ice cream and any food that contains milk or milk ingredients. A child who avoids cow’s milk may miss out on milk’s important nutrients. Milk is the number one food source of nine essential nutrients in American children’s diets, including those important for bone mineralization and growth, like calcium and vitamin D. A registered dietitian nutritionist can help you choose foods with care to replace these lost nutrients. 

The good news is if you are diligent in helping your milk-allergic child avoid all milk products and milk ingredients, they are likely to outgrow the allergy by age of six years. Reintroducing milk back into the diet should be done with the guidance of a physician.