Lactose intolerance has become a common enough problem that most people recognise the term for what it means – one is allergic to dairy products. However, as mammals, we rely on milk as a primary source of not just nutrients but also antibodies. Developing the baby’s organs, growing to the right weight, and heightening the baby’s immune system are keys to the survival of the infant.
Unfortunately, there are a few babies that are lactose intolerant. What happens to them? Are they just allergic to the dairy that the mom consumes? Or is the mother’s milk a problem too? How are they to grow? Read on for an answer to these questions and more.
First of all, let’s get some things out of the way. Lactose is the most integral and hence abundant part of milk, yes, human milk too. It increases the absorption of iron and calcium, supports healthy brain development, as well as the development of a spinal cord, is a building block of prebiotics and also has anti-infective properties. Regardless of how much dairy the mother consumes, the amount of lactose in breast milk does not vary. The concentration of lactose is the same from the beginning to the end of the breastfeed.
Now that that is out of the way, let’s get on with the four facts.
1. The Chances Of Lactose Intolerance Of The Congenital Kind Are Small
The chances of a baby to be born with congenital lactose intolerance are extremely minute (1)(2). The enzyme that is responsible for the digestion of lactose, lactase, is absent in such cases. Babies with such a condition have a deficiency of growth and require lactose-free formula for feeding.
2. Did You Check The Gut?
Most often than not, lactose intolerance is temporary and is caused by an irritant in the gut. There are microscopic folds in the gut called the villi on top of which the lactase sits. Any gut irritant, that is, disruption of these villi, will cause a depletion of lactase and hence present the symptoms of lactose intolerance.
Food sensitivity, an infection of the parasitic kind, Coeliac disease, bowel surgery, Chron’s disease and gastroenteritis all can cause what is known as secondary lactose intolerance.
3. Lactose Overload
When a mother has an oversupply of milk, and especially when she’s new to breastfeeding, there is a possibility that the baby will be overloaded. In such cases, the baby could present symptoms of having secondary lactose intolerance; however, it is not the case. You need not worry but merely cut down on how much you feed your baby.
Such babies are usually less than three months of age, have a large output, have an above average weight gain, and most importantly, have a mother who has oversupply.
4. Substitution Is Not The Answer
Your first instinct might be to replace breast milk with over the counter lactose-free formula, but this is not the solution you are looking for. Since congenital lactose intolerance is an incredibly rare disease, as discussed, it is far more likely that the symptoms mimicking this condition point to second lactose intolerance. Substituting breast milk will merely be treating the symptom, not the underlying condition. When the cause is resolved, the symptoms go away along with the secondary lactose intolerance, which is what you wanted in the first place, right?
Besides, the lactose-free formula is most likely to contain proteins from a cow, which itself is another allergen (3). You could be causing more harm than doing good. And the gut, which is the reason the symptoms presented, is still left unhealed.
If you are concerned that your baby still might be lactose intolerant, speak to a dietician who specialises in the diets of babies (mostly breastfeeding), and they should be able to answer any queries you might have and treat any ailments your baby may be suffering from. Good luck!