True lactose intolerance—harsh digestive issues that occur after ingesting milk or milk products—is extremely rare in infants. However, lactose sensitivity in babies is temporary and fairly common. Lactose is one of the most important carbohydrates in breast milk and milk-based formula and provides many benefits to babies. When a baby’s digestive system is still developing or after a GL illness, her body may not make enough of the enzyme lactase, which is needed to break down lactose into two simple sugars: glucose and galactose. Since the body doesn’t produce enough lactase, some of the lactose may not get broken down in the small intestine, so it passes into the large intestine, where bacteria then may ferment it, producing gas and acid. In short, your baby’s may not be able to digest all of the lactose.
What other facts should you know about lactose—and what myths should you overlook? Experts at Enfamil® explain what you need to know about lactose intolerance in babies.
Most babies have normal lactase activity at birth.
Truth. Newborns tend to have normal amounts of lactase. It’s when they get older that lactase amounts may decrease. So even if your baby doesn’t have lactose sensitivity now, it’s still good to know what to look for in case she develops it later in life.
Certain ethnic groups are more prone to lactose intolerance.
Truth. Children of Hispanic, Asian, African American, and Native American descent are more likely to experience lactose intolerance, although usually later in childhood.
Lactose-sensitive babies can experience discomfort if they consume lactose.
Truth. The end result for your little one could be digestive discomfort anywhere between 30 minutes and two hours after consuming lactose.
The degree of lactose sensitivity can differ from baby to baby.
Truth. Some babies may have a mild sensitivity, and it may be just a matter of managing the amount of lactose ingested. If babies have more severe or persistent issues, it could signal an underlying cause like milk protein allergy.
Switching formulas may help your baby’s issues.
Truth. If you suspect a sensitivity to lactose, ask your pediatrician about switching formulas.
If your baby has a sensitivity to lactose, she’ll be that way for life.
Myth. Lactose sensitivity in infancy is different than the lactose intolerance that can develop later in life.
If your baby has low levels of lactase, she’s considered lactose intolerant.
Myth. While it’s not uncommon to have low levels of lactase (the enzyme that’s produced in the lining of the small intestine), with some babies experiencing digestive discomfort, true lactose intolerance, if it occurs that is lifelong usually doesn’t develop until later in life.
Next Step: Visiting the Pediatrician
If you think your baby might be sensitive to lactose, make an appointment for an exam with your baby’s pediatrician. The pediatrician may request a stool acidity test, in which a sample is examined for lactic and other acids. Many suspected cases of lactose intolerance actually turn out to be other simple digestive issues that are easily managed. It’s a good idea to come prepared and bring a list of questions with you.
Questions to Consider Asking About Lactose Intolerance in Babies
- What does lactose intolerance or sensitivity mean?
- What are the issues caused by lactose intolerance or sensitivity?
Might there be another cause for my baby’s issues?
How can you tell if my baby has an issue with lactose?
What are the management options?
What type of lactose sensitivity could my baby have?
Does my baby need to avoid all dairy products?
How can my baby get enough calcium in her diet if milk or lactose are reduced?
When can I reintroduce lactose?
Should my baby be taking a supplement to make sure she’s getting all the vitamins and minerals she needs?
Do babies outgrow lactose sensitivity?
Before a Pediatrician Appointment
Your time with the pediatrician might be limited, so make sure you come to the appointment prepared.
- Write down all of your baby’s digestive issues and your concerns:
- How long after she finishes eating do the issues appear?
Any other issues or behaviors, like fussiness?
- Log anything you are giving your baby:
Breast milk, formula, or a combination
Vitamins or other nutritional supplements
- Note any changes in your baby lately:
Having all this information on hand will make your pediatrician appointment as helpful as possible.
One Last Question
Is your baby having trouble with lactose sensitivity? Ask your pediatrician if a formula change may help. If you prefer dairy-free formula, soy-based formula may be a good option. And for the latest research on the subject, read “Lactose Sensitivity in Babies: What Doctors Are Learning.”