Lactose intolerance is a condition that is characterised by the body’s inability to break down a sugar called lactose. This occurs because the body doesn’t have lactase enzymes. Although it’s rare for babies to be born with lactose intolerance, it does happen.
Lactose is also heavily present in a baby’s diet, with breast milk, formula, dairy milk, and other dairy products all containing it. The disaccharide is crucial for your baby’s health and development and provides around 40% of your baby’s energy needs and helps them absorb calcium and iron.
What causes lactose intolerance?
It is difficult to determine why the condition affects some and not others, but it is definitely not rare. Scientifically, the condition is caused by these 3 reasons:
1. Lactase non-persistence (hypolactasia)
This is the most common type of lactose intolerance, with around 70% having this condition. It is genetics and happens when the child’s lactase enzymes gradually start to decrease. Symptoms can appear after the age of 5 but are usually more noticeable in teenagers and young adults.
2. Congenital lactase deficiency (alactasia)
This is when a baby has no lactase enzymes at all. Babies can also only be lactose intolerant under one condition – if the parents are both lactose intolerant. If affected, the baby would experience severe diarrhea and be unable to tolerate lactose in breast milk or formula.
3. Secondary lactose intolerance
This is a kind of short term lactose intolerance. It happens when your child’s digestive system is upset by tummy bugs like gastroenteritis – which irritates the lining of the stomach and small intestine. It will go away after a few weeks.
How do I know if my child is lactose intolerant?
Some common symptoms are wind, stomach pain, bloating, and/or diarrhea.
For babies, they will be cranky and have trouble settling. Other issues include attachment problems during breastfeeding, failure to gain weight, and nappy rashes.
There are some ways to diagnose it.
While it could be easy for you to determine that your baby has lactose intolerance just because of the above symptoms, you are still advised to see a doctor. This is because some of these symptoms are also common in healthy breastfed infants.
Doctors will advise you by running these tests:
1. Hydrogen breath test
It tests the amount of hydrogen is your child’s breath, as lactose-intolerant children have higher levels of hydrogen.
2. Elimination diet
This simple test involves removing all foods containing lactose from your child’s diet. If their symptoms improve, they most likely are lactose intolerant.