Lactose is the primary sugar in cow’s milk and other dairy products. If your body lacks the enzyme lactase, this means that you’re unable to digest lactose, which can cause gastrointestinal problems. Even though true lactose intolerance usually doesn’t present itself until the grade-school or teen years, sometimes babies (especially if born prematurely) are unable to produce adequate amounts of lactase for awhile. However, their lactase levels typically return to normal as they grow older.
In rare cases, a baby is born with true lactose intolerance. When this occurs, the baby has severe diarrhea and is unable to tolerate breast milk or any formula that is made from cow’s milk. However, in most cases, if your baby has severe diarrhea, this means that their body might be temporarily struggling to produce enough lactase, which can result in symptoms of lactose intolerance for a few days or weeks.
Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance in Babies
It is important to be sure that your baby is experiencing a genuine lactose intolerance and not a milk allergy instead. Since the symptoms can be similar, they can be easily confused. Both conditions cause diarrhea and stomach pain after consuming milk products, but a milk allergy might also produce a rash, itching, or swelling.
If this is the case, your baby might be allergic to the proteins in milk, meaning that dairy products must be completely avoided. On the other hand, lactose intolerance doesn’t necessarily mean that your baby can’t have milk products at all, as most lactose intolerant individuals can still digest small amounts of dairy products without any problems.
Treatments for Lactose Intolerance in Babies
Even though there is no definitive treatment for lactose intolerance, there are things you can do for your baby to help lessen the symptoms. First, figure out how much lactose your baby is able to handle without getting sick. This can be accomplished through trial and error. Watch how your baby reacts to different foods and make note of how much lactose your baby can comfortably digest. For example, some cheeses have less lactose than others, so they might be easier on the stomach. Also, live-culture yogurt is typically easier to digest than other dairy products because of the healthy bacteria that help produce lactase.
If your baby seems unable to tolerate any lactose, then you will want to avoid foods containing it for as long as your baby seems to be showing symptoms. Read the labels of all foods that you give your baby and watch out for lactose ingredients. These can be found in unlikely places at times, such as pancake mixes, breakfast cereals, instant potatoes, breads, and some salad dressings.
Finally, it is important to make sure that you are still able to meet all of your baby’s nutritional needs without dairy products. If all dairy products have to be eliminated, then you have to make sure that your child is still receiving an adequate amount of calcium. Some non-dairy sources of calcium include soy milk, juices, broccoli, leafy greens, salmon, oranges, and tofu. If you still think your baby might not be getting enough nutrients, talk with your doctor about finding a supplement can help.
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