Is My Baby Lactose Intolerant?

If you’re worried that your baby is lactose intolerant because you’ve noticed symptoms related to his or your eating habits, chances are he is not.  It is very rare for babies to be lactose intolerant.  With centuries of evolution in your corner, babies are meant to drink milk, well, at least your milk.

Lactose intolerance is a condition when the body cannot produce enough of the lactase enzyme required to digest lactose.  Lactose is the main sugar in cow’s milk and that is in all dairy products including cheese, yogurt, ice cream and butter.  Lactose intolerance is not a dangerous condition but can be very uncomfortable for those who suffer from it.  Symptoms include indigestion, upset stomach, gas and diarrhea.

Between 30 and 50 million Americans are lactose intolerant.  It is genetic with strong ethnic correlations.  Asian Americans are highly likely to be lactose intolerant, hence the lack of dairy products in their cuisine.  African Americans, Jews, Native Americans and Hispanics are also more likely to be lactose intolerant.

Happy mother breast feeding her sonUsually lactose intolerance develops in the adolescent or teenage years.  The very few babies born with lactose intolerance have two parents that passed along the gene.  The symptoms would present immediately upon birth.  Diarrhea, cramping, bloating and gas would occur relatively quickly when fed breast milk or any formula made from cow’s milk.  Premature babies are more susceptible to lactose intolerance as regulation of the lactase enzyme develops at the end of the third trimester.

If your baby is suddenly showing symptoms of distress after breastfeeding but had otherwise been OK since birth, the cause is most likely an allergy, not an intolerance.  Allergies are an immune response.  Cow’s milk allergies are more common in babies. When a baby drinks breast milk that contains dairy products, they will have a reaction.  Symptoms of food allergies range from gastrointestinal problems to rashes, hives, diaper rash, fussiness, vomiting, unwillingness to sleep, inconsolable crying, runny nose and ear infections.

The best way to determine whether your breastfed baby has a cow’s milk allergy is to eliminate dairy from your diet for three weeks.  It can take that long for all of the milk protein to run its course.  If your baby shows signs of improvement, you have discovered the culprit!  You may be able to slowly add back some amount of dairy without your baby showing symptoms.

The easiest items to remove from your diet are the obvious things like milk, cheese and yogurt.  Foods with trace amounts of diary may not bother your baby.  If they do, cut them out again.  The less exposure during this critical time, the less likely your baby will be to have severe allergic reactions in the future.  Remember, consuming lactose-free foods will not necessary solve the problem if they still contain cow’s milk protein. Luckily, many babies grow out of their cow’s milk allergies by the age of three.

If you are having trouble identifying the source of your baby’s allergy, keep in mind that the most common baby food allergies besides cow’s milk are soy, eggs, wheat, corn and peanuts.  You should also consider foods that other family members are allergic to as the allergy may be genetic.  Other allergy offenders may be foods that mom is eating a lot of during pregnancy, whether because she likes it or she thinks it is healthy to eat while breastfeeding.  And think about whether you’ve introduced any new foods to your diet lately

Food allergies are not a reason to stop breastfeeding.  In fact, breastfeeding boosts your baby’s immune system and reduces allergies in your child’s lifetime.  It may be challenging to sacrifice foods you like in the short term, but it’s well worth your baby’s health.