A cohort of 1,749 newborns in the municipality of Odense were followed prospectively for the development of cow's milk allergy (CMA) during their first year of life. Altogether 39 fulfilled the criteria for CMA (2.2%). Out of the 39 infants, 17 developed symptoms of CMA during breast-feeding, in all cases before the age of 3 months. Nine of these were solely breast-fed at the time of diagnosis, giving a one year incidence of CMA in exclusively breast-fed infants of 0.5% (9/1,749) in a study population with a frequency of exclusive breast-feeding of 52% at 3 months of age. None of the infants had signs of CMA in the neonatal period. Review of records from the newborn nursery revealed that all 9 infants had been exposed to cow's milk formula in amounts corresponding to approximately 0.4-3.0 g of beta-lactoglobulin (BLG) during the first three days of life. Human milk samples were analyzed by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) for the content of bovine BLG. Detectable amounts (0.5-45 ng/ml) were found in 3/9 samples of human milk against which the infants reacted clinically. Analysis of the size distribution by high pressure liquid gel permeation chromatography in combination with ELISA indicated a molecular weight of BLG corresponding to that of monomeric BLG (18 kD). Possibly early inadvertent and occasional exposure to cow's milk proteins may initiate sensitization in predisposed neonates. Subsequent exposure to minute amounts of bovine milk proteins in human milk may act as booster doses eliciting allergic reactions.