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What Are the Signs of an Allergic Reaction to Formula?

By Amanda R. Bell
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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There are several signs that indicate that a baby could be having an allergic reaction to formula. The most common is increased fussiness, although this can be difficult to separate from regular irritability in younger infants. The development of a rash or hives can also be an indication of a reaction, as can a diaper rash that does not go away with topical treatments. Changes in a child’s stool or increased spit-up may also be a sign that a child is experiencing an allergic reaction to formula.

While increased fussiness or irritability is one of the most common signs that a child has an intolerance to a certain formula, whether this is obvious typically depends on the disposition of the child. Parents or caregivers of very young babies or those considered colicky may not initially recognize this sign of an allergic reaction to formula. In general, if a child is extremely fussy shortly after eating or shows sign of stomach discomfort, such as arching his or her back or attempting to pull his or her knees into the stomach, the formula may be the cause.

As with allergic reactions in adults, a baby who suddenly develops a rash or hives may be experiencing an allergic reaction to his or her food source. These typically occur around the mouth, although they can appear on any part of the body. If the parent or caregiver has recently started using a new soap during bath time or a different laundry detergent to wash the baby’s clothes, this may also be the culprit. This typically needs to be ruled out before changes are made to the child’s diet, provided that there are no other signs of an allergic reaction to formula.

If a red rash appears on a child’s bottom when there has not been any exposure to a new substance, such as a new disposable diaper, baby wipes, or detergent used on cloth diapers, this could be caused by an allergic reaction to formula. In most cases, a rash that is concentrated around the rectum is the most obvious sign provided that it does not go away with frequent diaper changes and treatment. Despite this, any redness that does disappear with the regular application of a zinc oxide cream or paste is often the sign of an allergy to a substance in the formula, typically cow’s milk or soy protein.

In most cases, an infant’s stool will vary greatly, especially in the early months where growth spurts are frequent. Despite this, a sudden change in color or consistency in a child’s stool may be a sign of an allergic reaction to formula. While many infants spit up, some more frequently than others, an increase in spit-up can also indicate that the child cannot tolerate an ingredient in his or her formula.

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