Just what is lactose intolerance and lactose sensitivity, and what could it mean for your baby? Get the facts you need to know.
True lactose intolerance—harsh digestive issues that occur after ingesting milk or milk products—is extremely rare in infants. However, some infants may have a temporary sensitivity to lactose. 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, 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?
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 suffer from lactose intolerance, although usually when no longer infants.
Lactose-sensitive babies can experience discomfort if they consume lactose.
Truth. The end result for your little one could be cramps, gas, diarrhea, and abdominal pain 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 you have a preference for a dairy-free formula, Enfamil ProSobee is a good option – it’s soy based and provides the complete nutrition your baby needs.
If your baby has a sensitivity to lactose, she’ll be that way for life.
Myth. In babies and kids where lactose sensitivity may be a temporary situation that begins after taking certain medicines or after having a gastrointestinal infection, and may eventually go away.
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.
To Learn More
For the latest research, read “Lactose Sensitivity in Babies: What Doctors Are Learning.”