Could your Baby be Lactose Intolerant?


Lactose intolerance is the expression used to describe the body’s inability to produce enough of the enzyme lactase in the digestive tract. Without it, lactose (the natural sugar in milk and other dairy products) cannot be digested properly, so suffers can feel bloated or experience vomiting and stomach pains after consuming milk or milk-based products.

What are the symptoms of lactose intolerance in babies?
The key symptoms are tummy pains and diarrhoea, although some babies will experience vomiting and eczema as well. Signs of lactose intolerance usually begin about 30 to 60 minutes after consumption of dairy through bottle or breast milk. Your doctor should be able to diagnose lactose intolerance in your baby and advise on feeding changes.

What signs should you look for?

1. Wind
Lactose intolerance causes stomach pain from an overproduction of gas in the intestines. Often, babies will show signs of pain after a feeding by grimacing, crying inconsolably and twisting their bodies around to relieve the discomfort. Generally, these behavioural signs are related to a feeding, but general fussiness can persist throughout the day. Babies will also have trouble sleeping more than normal. They may wake up suddenly as if in pain and start crying.

2. Diarrhoea and vomiting
Diarrhoea and spitting up or vomiting are signs of lactose intolerance in babies. Look for changes in your baby’s stools. Diarrhoea in babies is runny, dark in colour and occurs many times during the day. Since vomiting and diarrhoea can cause a baby to lose fluids, it is crucial to contact your doctor for advice on how to prevent dehydration.

3. Eczema
Lactose intolerance in babies can also manifest as eczema – dry skin with a rough texture due to small white bumps. Your baby may have dry and scaly patches or the eczema may cover large areas of the body. Flare-ups can occur, where the dry patches become red, raised and oozy. Often, these areas will be itchy and uncomfortable. Eczema can often be relieved through keeping the skin moisturized and using gentle soaps during fewer baths.

4. Ear Infections
Ear infections are another sign of lactose intolerance in babies. Since babies cannot pinpoint where pain is yet, they will bat and pull at areas that hurt such as the ear or face. Other signs of an ear infection are fussiness, ear drainage and behaviour similar to when the baby is teething.
What should you do if you see some signs of lactose intolerance?

Firstly contact your doctor. He or she may advise that if your baby is showing symptoms of lactose intolerance you remove all sources of lactose from their diet for a few weeks and see if the symptoms disappear.Most babies with lactose intolerance cannot be breast fed, since mother's milk contains lactose, or take a cow's milk formula. The baby is placed on a special lactose-free formula made with soy. These formulas are safe for your baby and they can be found in most supermarkets.

If your bottle-fed baby shows signs of lactose intolerance, contact your doctor about switching from milk-based to a soy-based formula. Once you've switched, monitor your baby for improvement.Always read the labels of foods. Any food products that contain lactose should not be given to your baby. Avoid foods with ingredients such as curds, whey, milk powders or milk by-products.Most baby foods are lactose free, but some contain milk. There should be a warning at the bottom of the ingredients list.

Look for milks and cheeses that are lactose free and ideal to give to older babies.Check the baby's reaction to foods. Some lactose intolerant babies are able to digest a small amount of dairy products. You will have to gauge how much dairy that the baby can have without developing symptoms.Give alternate sources of calcium. Since dairy products are a main source of calcium, you need to give the baby non-dairy foods that contain a lot of calcium. Fruits, green vegetables and fortified cereals are good alternatives. Ask about a supplement. If you are worried about your baby's nutritional needs not being met, ask your paediatrician about giving him a dietary supplement.Replace milk with a soy or rice substitute when making your own foods. You might have to experiment, but usually you cannot tell the difference in flavour. These products can be found in most supermarkets in the dairy or health food sections.

Never try to re-introduce milk into your child's diet until you have discussed this with your baby's doctor. Try dairy slowly, keeping your baby on mostly lactose-free foods and watching carefully to see if symptoms return. If they do, immediately put your baby back on a lactose-free diet until your doctor says it is safe to try again.

What’s the difference between lactose intolerance and a milk allergy? 

Milk protein allergy is when the immune system overreacts to one or more of the proteins found in milk. Milk allergy can be severe and in some cases can cause an extreme and severe reaction know as anaphylaxis (the whole body is affected, often within minutes of exposure to the allergen). When someone has an allergy to milk they can experience symptoms in addition to digestive discomfort, such as skin rashes, eczema, nasal congestions and coughing and the swelling of the lips, mouth and tongue.

While lactose intolerance can cause a great deal of discomfort, it won’t usually produce a sudden or dangerous reaction. There is confusion between food allergies and intolerances and people need to be clear about diagnosing the condition, especially in babies, so they don't cut out important food groups unnecessarily.

Lactose intolerance is actually uncommon in babies, although it can show up temporarily in premature babies (until they reach their due date) and babies who have just suffered a bout of diarrhoea. More commonly, babies show symptoms of a dairy allergy. Babies with a milk allergy will exhibit symptoms similar to lactose intolerance. Stomach pain, diarrhoea, an itchy rash and swelling of the face are milk allergy symptoms to watch out for in your baby.

In most cases, lactose intolerance in babies disappears on its own by the second birthday.