Lactose Intolerance in Babies

Lactose is the sugar in milk and your body needs lactase enzyme to digest it. In the absence of enough lactase, your body will fail to digest milk sugar that will go to your large bowel and cause gut pain and diarrhea. If you experience pain and diarrhea after consuming milk or milk products, it may mean that you're lactose intolerant. Though it's rare, the condition can also affect babies. Since milk is a baby's first food, they are typically born willing and ready to drink and digest milk. The condition becomes more evident when your kid is two years old because lactase levels will come down after that age. Keep reading to learn different causes of baby experiencing lactose intolerance.

What Is Lactose Intolerance in Babies?

Babies develop lactose intolerance when they don't have enough lactase in their bodies. In this condition, the body of your baby cannot break down lactose that travels to the gut, making fluid in the gut tissue to move into the gut and creating issues such as nausea, cramping, diarrhea
and abdominal pain. You will also notice your baby becoming fussy after you feed him or her. They may even experience diarrhea and belly pain within an hour of consuming cow's milk. Unfortunately, you cannot fix the problem, but you can learn how to manage things better to prevent baby experiencing symptoms associated with lactose intolerance.

What Causes Lactose Intolerance in Babies?

As mentioned, someone with lactose intolerance cannot break down the sugar in cow's milk, or lactose, which will lead to bloating and stomach pain. You must want to know the reasons of lactose intolerance and here're the main causes.

1. Primary Lactose Intolerance

Your baby has primary lactose intolerance because of insufficient amount of lactase. More than 70% of people in the world have primary lactose intolerance. It's more common in African, Asian and Hispanic people, mainly because their diets don't contain that much lactose, so their bodies have stopped producing enough lactase.

2. Secondary Lactose Intolerance

Your baby may have secondary lactose intolerance in which the lining of their gut is damaged and cannot produce enough lactase. This may happen due to an underlying medical condition such as gastroenteritis that damages and irritates the gut. Some other serious conditions such as coeliac disease, Crohn's disease and alcoholism can also cause this type of intolerance.

3. Congenital Lactose Intolerance

It is a rare condition caused by genetic disorder. Your baby's body may be unable to produce any lactase whatsoever. It is important to point out that since lactase levels increase in the third trimester your baby may develop lactose intolerance if he was born early.

How Is Lactose Intolerance in Babies Diagnosed?

Yes, it is possible to diagnose lactose intolerance in a baby without the need of lab tests.

  • Your baby's pediatrician can diagnose it by checking the levels of acid in stool.
  • A breath hydrogen test will also help identify the issue, but it requires paying a visit to the pulmonary function lab of a hospital.
  • Another simple way is to put your baby on an exclusion diet with no lactose in it. If the symptoms improve after removing lactose from their diet, reintroduce some milk in the diet to see if the symptoms return. If the symptoms do return, your child is suffering from lactose intolerance.

How to Handle Lactose Intolerance in Babies

Start by experimenting with diet. This is especially useful with children who have a primary intolerance. You will be able to determine which foods your baby can eat and how much lactose intolerant they are. Remember, it is impossible to treat lactose intolerance, but careful planning will help your child manage things better.

Secondary lactose intolerance in a baby is usually a temporary condition, unless there is a long-term underlying cause. Your children will feel better once you cut out dairy products from their diet for a few weeks. The idea is to give their gut some time to heal, and once it happens, their ability to produce enough lactose will be restored.

Whether your children have primary intolerance or secondary intolerance, you should work with an experienced dietician. Also, talk to your doctor about alternative sources of calcium if you cannot give your child any milk-based products.

If I Breastfed My Baby, Can Lactose Intolerance Happen?

Many women think that lactose intolerance is related to cows' milk only, but that's not the case. Even breastfed babies can be lactose intolerant because they are too young to produce enough lactase. However, you may not notice typical symptoms of lactose intolerance such as diarrhea, but your baby will have quite loose feces. Therefore, it is a good idea to confirm it before you put your baby on any lactose-free diet. Even if your baby is lactose intolerant, your doctor will work with you and devise a plan for you and your baby to ensure you continue to breastfeed safely. In some cases, your doctor may advise you to stop breastfeeding for a short time. Be sure to follow your doctor's advice.

Is Lactose Intolerance and Milk Allergy the Same?

No, they are not. Lactose intolerance in babies is a digestive condition, whereas a milk allergy is an immune response to proteins found in milk. Symptoms like diarrhea or abdominal pain may stay the same in both conditions, but you may also notice other symptoms such as itchy rash, swelling of the face, watery eyes, hives or a runny nose if your child is allergic to cows' milk. 

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