Does My Baby Need Hypoallergenic Formula?

Wondering if your baby needs hypoallergenic formula? Keep reading to learn more about switching formulas and keeping your baby healthy.

Top 5 Signs Your Baby Might Need Hypoallergenic Formula

As a new parent, sometimes it’s hard to know what is normal or if your baby needs a change in environment or diet. A baby who is fussy or has a suspicious rash can cause worry, when you may only need to switch out your formula. Let’s look at five signs that your baby needs hypoallergenic baby formula. 

1. Extreme Irritability 

There is no doubt that all babies cry from time to time. Crying is how babies communicate to tell you that they are cold, tired, hungry, need a diaper change, or are lonely. But if your baby cries for long periods of time and/or seems unconsolable, it may be a good idea to discuss this with your doctor. He can evaluate your baby further and help diagnose a cow’s milk allergy. In this case, switching to a hypoallergenic baby formula may help your baby’s symptoms, providing some much-needed relief to both of you. 

2. Strong Family History of Food Allergies

A family history doesn’t necessarily mean your baby will need hypoallergenic formula. However, it is good to watch your baby’s moods and symptoms if you have a strong family history of food allergies, especially ones that involve milk proteins. An extensive French study done in 2019 showed a strong genetic link in cow’s milk protein allergies (CMPA). If you or a family member has a history of food allergies, it may be more likely that your baby will develop a food allergy as well. 

3. Eczema 

Your baby’s skin is sensitive, which can make it difficult to tell the difference between dry skin and eczema. Eczema is extreme dry skin that is red, inflamed, itchy, and often cracked. Babies with eczema are more likely to develop food allergies and oftentimes will develop skin symptoms before other food allergy symptoms appear. The likelihood of eczema developing prior to other allergy symptoms makes it important to observe closely. If your baby shows signs of eczema, pay close attention to the type of rash, its frequency, and its intensity. This will help determine if the formula you are using could be negatively affecting your baby. 

4. Vomiting/Diarrhea 

If your baby is regularly vomiting or has loose stools and/or diarrhea, it is possible that a cow’s milk allergy is the culprit. Problems with your baby’s digestive system is a telltale sign something isn’t quite right. Once ruling out a virus or infection, it is safe to assume that continued digestive issues have a root cause tied to an allergic reaction. If your baby is showing any of these symptoms, please talk to your doctor. Be sure to mention if the vomiting/diarrhea is accompanied by any of the other allergy symptoms mentioned here. 

5. Respiratory Issues

If your baby is wheezing or experiencing other respiratory issues, it is important to see a doctor as quickly as possible. Your baby may need immediate medical attention in addition to a hypoallergenic formula. Once immediate treatment is administered, switching formula may be the next step in preventing future respiratory issues related to cow’s milk allergies. 

What is Hypoallergenic Formula?

Cow’s milk is the most common food allergy in small children. Hypoallergenic formulas are designed for babies who are unable to digest cow’s milk due to this allergy. Cow’s milk formula primarily contains two types of proteins – casein and whey. When there is an allergy present, the proteins must be broken down before consumption. These specialty formulas are created by pre-digesting the proteins contained in traditional cow’s milk formulas. There are three types of hypoallergenic baby formulas:

  • Partially Hydrolyzed Formula. This formula is made by breaking down the proteins in cow’s milk formula into small pieces. While these may help relieve some of the same symptoms that are associated with milk protein allergies (fussines and tummaches), they are not truly hypoallergenic and not for use in babies allergic to cow’s milk. The proteins are not broken down small enough to help babies who are allergic to traditional formulas. 
  • Extensively Hydrolyzed Formula. This process breaks down the milk proteins into even smaller pieces, making it more easily digestible. This is a good option for babies with cow’s milk allergies. 
  • Amino-Acid Based Formula. This formula has been broken down so extensively that only amino acids remain. Since amino-acids are the building blocks of proteins, the baby receives all the nutrients of traditional formula without having to break down the proteins internally. This also is a great option.

Both extensively hydrolyzed and amino acid formulas are tolerated by 90% of babies with cow’s milk allergies and can help relieve the symptoms associated with traditional formulas. 

Hypoallergenic Formula for Reflux 

It is worth noting that acid reflux can be common in babies and oftentimes isn’t cause for concern. However, if your baby is experiencing an allergy to his traditional formula, switching can help resolve this issue. Look for reflux that is accompanied by other symptoms and for spitting up that is more frequent and intense than normal. 

What Kind of Hypoallergenic Formula Should I Buy?

Choosing the right hypoallergenic formula for your baby can be a daunting process. How do you wade through all of the information available to determine the right choice for your baby?

From Similac Alimentum to the European HiPP HA and everything in between, the options are almost limitless. 

There are a variety of reliable extensively hydrolyzed and amino acid formulas on the market. The only way to really know what’s best for your baby is trial and error. Consult your doctor and ask for samples to help pinpoint the right formula for your baby. Asking other parents what has worked for them is also helpful. 

What to Expect When Switching to Hypoallergenic Formula

Once you and your doctor have determined your baby needs to switch formulas, you have no doubt gone through enough stress. It is helpful to note the changes that will occur when switching to a new formula so that you are prepared for them. Being prepared ahead of time is key to moving smoothly through the transition, mitigating the concern that often accompanies these types of changes.

  • Difference in smell and taste. Hypoallergenic formula will smell and taste different than traditional cow’s milk formula. Thankfully, babies don’t have a refined enough taste yet to notice the slightly bitter undertones, but you may notice a difference in smell. This is perfectly normal. 
  • Changes in stool. Changes in food will likely result in both color and odor change in your baby’s stool. If the milk allergy was formerly causing diarrhea and loose stools, then the switch to hypoallergenic formula may fix this issue. This will result in more formed bowel movements. Additionally, the color may change slightly. It is not uncommon for bowel movements to have a greenish or yellowish undertone or even change from feeding to feeding. However, you should contact your doctor if you notice any red, white, or black coloring.
  • Change of color in formula appearance. Hypoallergenic formulas are not as dense in color as traditional formulas because the proteins are broken down into much smaller pieces. It may look more watery and less opaque than the formula you are used to, but it is just as nourishing. 
  • Difference in price. Unfortunately, this is a fact of life when it comes to good nutrition and allergy-friendly products specifically. It simply takes more time, manpower, and cost to create products that are easier to digest. This doesn’t make the sticker shock any easier on the budget, however. Make sure to ask around about the most inexpensive way to purchase the formula you need for your little one. Also, keep in mind that formula is a temporary expense. While it seems like your baby will be a baby forever, anyone will tell you it’s over before you know it. All the costs involved, financial and otherwise, will be worth it in the end. 

Where Can I Find Hypoallergenic Formula?

Specialty formulas can be found at virtually any big box retailer across the nation. They are also available at local drugstores and supermarkets. Once you receive samples from your doctor and decide which formula fits your baby’s needs, it shouldn’t be hard to find what you need. It’s worth noting that hypoallergenic formulas are also available online at places like Amazon, but be sure to check the price – Amazon isn’t always the cheapest option for items such as these. 

The Bottom Line

Feeding your baby is arguably the most important task you take on as a new parent. It can be frustrating to find out that what you’re using is making your baby irritable, fussy, or even sick. Working with your doctor to determine what is causing these issues is an important step. Many times, cow’s milk allergies are easily treated by switching formulas. Hypoallergenic formulas, specifically ones that are extensively hydrolyzed or amino-acid based, are allergen-friendly and more gentle on your baby than cow’s milk formulas. This is good news for both you and your baby. 


All health-related content on this website is for informational purposes only and does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the advice of your own pediatrician in connection with any questions regarding your baby’s health.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. Products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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