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      Baby Lactose Intolerance

      Nurse Visit

      Baby Lactose Intolerance

      Lactose is a sugar, occurring naturally in both breastmilk and cows’ milk. It is important in your baby’s diet as it provides energy and it also helps your baby absorb calcium – important for their bone development. 


      How do I know if my baby has an intolerance?

      About 52% of the nutritional composition of breastmilk (dry matter of breast milk) is actually made up of lactose. When your baby ingests lactose, the enzyme lactase in your baby’s gut works to break lactose down, allowing it to be used by the body.

      Lactose intolerance results from an inability to breakdown lactose due to an absence or an insufficient amount of lactase in a baby’s gut. The symptoms of lactose intolerance include bloating, abdominal pain, ‘frothy’ diarrhoea and excess wind.

      Lactose intolerance can be divided into 2 types: Primary and Secondary.

      Primary Lactose intolerance is very rare in northern Europe (including Ireland) affecting only 2-5% of babies. It tends to be over-diagnosed however, it results from an inability to make any of the enzyme lactase that breaks down the lactose in your baby’s digestive system. This form of lactose intolerance also tends to develop only after the age of 5 years. It is extremely rare for it to develop in young infants with less than 100 cases reported worldwide.

      Sometimes if your baby has been quite sick (e.g. if they’ve had gastroenteritis) or they’ve had surgery of the bowel, damage can be done to their little gut resulting in a reduced production of the enzyme lactase. This results in secondary lactose intolerance, but this is only temporary. Once your baby’s digestive system has had time to recover (usually takes 3-4 weeks) this temporary lactose intolerance usually subsides. This type of lactose intolerance is more common than primary lactose intolerance.


      Should my baby be on a lactose free formula?

      In some cases, should your healthcare professional see it necessary to eliminate lactose from the diet, they may indeed recommend a lactose free formula if your baby is being bottle-fed but this should only be for a few weeks and not a long term dietary solution for your baby. If you are breastfeeding, you should without doubt continue to breastfeed.


      Remember to always seek advice from your healthcare professional:

      If you think that your baby may have lactose intolerance, always seek advice from your healthcare professional before making any dietary changes. 

      If you need some advice on this topic, read our experts article on recognising milk intolerances and allergies or why not give one of our nutritionists a call.


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      Important notice

      Breastfeeding is best for babies and provides many benefits. It is important that, in preparation for and during breastfeeding, you eat a varied, balanced diet. Combined breast and bottle feeding in the first weeks of life may reduce the supply of your own breastmilk, and reversing the decision not to breastfeed is difficult. The social and financial implications of using an infant formula should be considered. Improper use of an infant formula or inappropriate foods or feeding methods may present a health hazard. If you use an infant formula, you should follow manufacturer’s instructions for use carefully – failure to follow the instructions may make your baby ill. Always consult your doctor, midwife or health visitor for advice about feeding your baby.

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