Like Anne Belle and her sisters, their family cows and calves have funky names ending with Belle.
Anne’s favourite calf is Daisy Belle, a black beauty, whom she considers as one of her siblings. The six-year-old, studying in Cluni Public School at Lakkatoor in Kerala, feeds Daisy and plays with her, once she is back home.
Anne’s sisters Isabel, Rose Belle and Cinta Belle have a tall glass of cow’s milk in the morning. Anne loves cow’s milk but she gets to have it only on holidays. Cow’s milk used to trigger allergic reactions like wheezing in the child and hence her mother, Rani, has been a little wary.
Cow’s milk protein intolerance (CMPI) is an abnormal reaction to protein found in cow’s milk, says Dr Somashekara H.R., paediatric gastroenterologist, Narayana Health City, Bengaluru. “The immune system normally protects our bodies from harm caused by bacteria or viruses. Milk allergy occurs when the immune system mistakenly recognises the milk protein as something the body should fight off and overreacts. This starts an allergic reaction, which can cause an infant to be fussy and irritable, and cause an upset stomach and other symptoms," he says.
Most symptoms of CMPI involve the skin or tummy. The child can have abdominal pain, blood in stool, diarrhoea, vomiting, hives, wheezing and eczema. Fever, lethargy and weight-loss owing to poor absorption of nutrients are also common.
For such children, drinking cow’s milk can sometimes be life-threatening. CMPI, in some cases, leads to anaphylaxis, a potentially fatal condition where the airways are narrowed causing breathing difficulty. If your child is allergic to milk, do not ignore the symptoms, however mild they are. See a doctor, preferably when the child has an allergic reaction. Breastfeeding mothers may have to eliminate soya and dairy products from their diet. "The child may be given extensively hydrolised formulas. These are made of broken-down proteins which don’t cause immune reactions," says Dr M.S. Viswanathan, consultant paediatric gastroenterologist and hepatologist, Apollo Children’s Hospital, Chennai. "Some children might require amino acid-based formulas."
Why do some children develop cow’s milk allergy? Researchers are yet to explain that, though there are numerous studies on this food allergy. But most researchers are sure of one thing: Formula-fed children are more likely to develop CMPI than breast-fed ones. Those having a parent or sibling with eczema, seasonal allergies or asthma are also prone to CMPI.
Milk allergy is often confused with lactose intolerance, a condition where the small intestine doesn’t produce enough of an enzyme called lactase. As a result, the body has difficulty digesting the lactose in milk. Lactose intolerance is more commonly found in children above age 2 or 3 whereas milk allergy manifests within the first year of life. Fifty per cent of children with CMPI outgrow it by their first birthday, 75 per cent by 3 years and 90 per cent by 6 years.
Anne’s family doctor says she may be given milk now. But Rani wants her to wait until she turns 7. Anne hopes she can beat her sisters in the milk-drinking contests at home.