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Cow's Milk Allergy vs. Cow's Milk Intolerance: Understanding the Differences

Preparing for your little one is overwhelming. We’ve been there! If you have a newborn with a milk issue, it's important to understand the difference between cow's milk allergy and cow's milk intolerance. While they may sound similar, they are two distinct conditions that affect children differently and require different approaches to treatment.

Cows Milk Allergy Or Cows Milk Intolerance?

Milk allergy vs Milk intolerance Organic Formula Shop

Confusion and misconceptions surround cow’s milk allergy versus intolerance (lactose intolerance). The main differentiator is intolerance is generally uncomfortable but harmless to your child. On the other hand, an allergy to cow’s milk can be dangerous. 

Thankfully, nearly all infants who develop an allergy to milk do in their first year of life and outgrow the allergy around three years old. 

Signs Of Allergy

Cow's milk allergy (CMA) is an immune system reaction to one or more of the proteins found in cow's milk. The signs and symptoms of allergy are relatively easy to spot in your little one and range from mild to severe.

The main signs and symptoms of a cow milk allergy include:

  • Fussing between meals
  • Crying right after a bottle
  • Frequently spitting up
  • Skin reactions
    • Red itchy rash
    • Swelling of the lips, face, and around the eyes
    • Eczema
  • Digestive issues
    • Bloating
    • Blood in stool
    • Stomach ache
    • Vomiting
    • Colic
    • Diarrhea 
    • Constipation

Severe but uncommon allergy signs include:

  • Breathing problems like shortness of breath or noisy breathing
  • Swelling inside mouth or throat
  • Wheezing
  • Cough

If your child is experiencing anaphylaxis (an acute severe reaction), this is a medical emergency, and you should call 911/999 or go to the emergency department as soon as possible.

Signs Of Intolerance

Cow's milk intolerance, on the other hand, is not an immune system reaction is less dangerous. The cause of intolerance is the body’s inability to break down lactose (the sugar in milk). Distinguishing between the two is simply based on the severity of symptoms.

An intolerance can produce these signs:

  • Gradual or temporary tummy symptoms
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach cramping
  • Bloating 
  • Gas
  • Spitting up
  • Irritability or colic
  • Failure to thrive or gain weight

How are they diagnosed?

The diagnosis of cow's milk allergy and cow's milk intolerance can be difficult, as the symptoms can be similar to other conditions. For CMA, a skin prick test or blood test can be performed to determine if there is an immune reaction to cow's milk. For cow's milk intolerance, a lactose tolerance test or hydrogen breath test can be performed to determine if the body is able to properly break down lactose.


The treatment for cow's milk allergy and cow's milk intolerance is different. Children with CMA should avoid cow's milk and all dairy products, and a pediatrician may recommend an alternative formula or milk substitute. In some cases, a soy-based formula may be recommended, although it is important to note that soy allergy is also common in children. In severe cases, an amino acid-based formula may be recommended.

For cow's milk intolerance, lactase supplements can be used to help break down lactose, or a lactose-free formula may be recommended. In some cases, a switch to a partially hydrolyzed formula may be recommended, as these contain smaller protein molecules that are easier for the body to digest.

We noticed a vast difference between American and European solutions, seeing a gap in nutrition and quality in available products. Our selection of organic formulas is the world’s healthiest option for your little one. Select a formula based on your baby’s age and condition as well as your preferred brand.  


Knowing the difference between cow's milk allergy and cow's milk intolerance is important for the proper treatment and management of these conditions. If you suspect your child may have a milk issue, it is important to consult a pediatrician for proper testing and treatment recommendations. With the right approach, children with cow's milk allergy or intolerance can continue to thrive and enjoy a healthy, balanced diet.

Please note: every person and situation is different so we always advise you to talk to your pediatrician first and see how these guidelines and tips can help you. This article is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment!