Lactose Intolerance in Babies Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention

Lactose Intolerance in Babies Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention

What is Lactose intolerance in babies?

Lactose is the sugar in milk. When a person stops producing the enzyme LACTASE that brakes down lactose, lactose intolerance occurs because of the inability to digest it. This is a very rare occurrence and is usually not the case, usually baby only has colic or food allergy, which is an immune response not a digestive condition like lactose intolerance.

True lactose intolerance usually only becomes apparent at about age 10, it's very uncommon for a baby unless he is premature, but this also passes after time.

How common is lactose intolerance in babies?

Very rare. Because milk is the natural first food of all humans, babies are typically born ready, willing and able to drink (and digest) milk. The exception is premature infants, since lactase levels usually increase during the third trimester. If your baby was born early, he may not have enough lactase to adequately break down lactose. Interestingly, lactose intolerance becomes more common in kids after age two, since lactase levels begin to taper off after that age.

Causes of lactose intolerance in babies, infants

  • It is common for adults and children over 4 or 5 years, from many racial groups, to be somewhat intolerant of milk because of the lactose in it.
  • This is normal in races that don't often drink milk after babyhood (eg Asian, Australian Aboriginal) but does not usually affect babies in these groups.
  • Gastro (gastroenteritis, tummy upset, bowel infection, infectious diarrhoea) can damage the lining of the small bowel and cause lactose intolerance for a few weeks after the illness in babies (or at any age.)
  • A severe food or milk allergy may cause lactose intolerance.
  • Very rarely newborn babies do not make any lactase, and become really sick in the first week of life. They do not grow until lactose is removed from their diet.
  • Many young breastfed babies who are growing well and have not had 'gastro' show some signs of lactose intolerance, but this is not an illness.

The problem is an overload of lactose, not a true intolerance.

This can almost always be helped without stopping breast feeding.
  • Some bottle fed babies also do not fully digest all of the lactose that they get in their milk, and show signs of lactose overload.

What are the symptoms of lactose intolerance in babies

  • Frothy runny stools
  • Gassiness in baby
  • Bloody stools
  • Baby is fussy, crying and irritable most of the time
  • Baby struggles to put on weight
  • Baby shows obvious signs of dehydration
  • Excessive vomiting
  • Diaper rash
  • Milk rash (sores on the face)

What are lactose intolerance symptoms in newborns?

Lactose intolerance is a condition which occurs when there is difficultly in processing lactose in the body. Newborns could suffer with primary, secondary or genetic lactose intolerance. Symptoms of lactose intolerance in newborns are as given below. Most newborns who suffer from lactose intolerance will suffer from diarrhea, bloating or gas, or abdominal cramping. These signs of lactose intolerance in newborns usually occur about 30 minutes to two hours after drinking breast milk. Other lactose intolerance symptoms in newborns include plenty of burps following feeding.  If you feel that your newborn is exhibiting the lactose intolerance symptoms mentioned above, do seek medical guidance. There are a few tests that can diagnose whether your newborn suffers from lactose intolerance or not. Your doctor may even suggest eliminating all sources of lactose from your baby’s diet till the symptoms subside. Proper treatment can be started once a diagnosis has been made. Treatment for lactose intolerance in newborns includes avoiding all dairy products and any products that contain lactose. Switching to a lactose free formula could help as well. If this does not help the condition, check with your doctor about giving your baby a soy formula. Medical guidance is recommended if you have a newborn with this problem.

Lactose Intolerance in Babies Diagnosis and Test

Your doctor may ask you to keep a diary of the foods you eat, to note when you experience symptoms, and to stop eating an offending food to see if your symptoms disappear. To make a diagnosis, some doctors simply evaluate your symptoms and whether avoiding dairy products for two weeks relieves your symptoms.

To confirm the diagnosis, your doctor needs to do other tests.

Milk Challenge Test: 

This is typically the first test doctors recommend. You fast overnight and drink a glass of milk in the morning. Then you don't eat anything else for 3 to 5 hours. If you're lactose intolerant, you'll have symptoms within 2 hours. If the milk challenge test indicates you may have lactose intolerance, your doctor may do one of the following tests to confirm the diagnosis.

Hydrogen Breath Test: 

Normally you have very little hydrogen in your breath. If your body does not digest lactose, though, the levels of hydrogen build in your intestines and eventually hydrogen is in your breath. The test measures the amount of hydrogen in your breath after you drink a lactose-loaded beverage several times during a few hours. If your levels are high 3 to 5 hours later, your body is not digesting lactose properly.

Lactose Tolerance Test: 

This blood test measures the amount of glucose in your blood. When your body breaks down lactose, it releases glucose into your blood. After you have fasted, a small sample of your blood is taken. Then, you drink a liquid that is high in lactose. Two hours later, you give another blood sample. Because lactose causes blood glucose levels to rise, glucose levels in the second sample should be higher. If they aren't, your body hasn't digested the lactose.

Stool Acidity Test: 

Doctors use this test to check an infant or child for lactose intolerance. (It's very rare in infants.) First, your child drinks a liquid with high levels of lactose in it. Then, your child's doctor takes a small stool sample. The doctor checks the acidity level. If it’s acidic, your child may have lactose intolerance.

Intestinal Biopsy: 

The most direct test for lactose intolerance is a biopsy of the intestinal lining to measure lactase levels. However, since this is an invasive procedure, doctors don't usually measure lactase like this except for research purposes where the required specialized analysis is available.

How did my baby get lactose intolerance?

People of some ethnic backgrounds (Asian, African or Native American) are more prone to lactose intolerance than people from a Northern European background. In babies, though, the most likely cause of lactose intolerance is prematurity.

Treatment for Lactose Intolerance in Babies

Lactose intolerance is not curable but changes in diet can help you ease the symptoms. Cutting down the milk products in the diet is usually recommended. Milk products which can easily be digested include the following:

  • Goat’s milk
  • Cheese and buttermilk as they have less lactose than milk
  • Ice cream, hard cheese, and milkshakes
  • Yogurt and other fermented milk products
  • Rice milk or soy for toddlers
  • Soy formula for kids less than 2 years
  • Milk treated with lactase for older children
  • Lactase free milk and milk products

Most of the children with lactose intolerance can drink 8oz. of milk without much difficulty so lactase enzyme can be added to this milk and taken in. Otherwise it can be given to kids in form of chewable tablets or capsules. Nutritionists say that not consuming milk in lead to shortage of vitamin D, calcium, protein, and riboflavin in children so they should consume dairy in small quantities as it can fulfil these deficiencies. This helps the colon bacteria to slowly balance the increasing load of carbohydrate by digesting the things which can not be digested in the small intestine. A part from this other calcium rich suppliments should be consumed such as orange juice, oyester, canned salmon, broccoli, leafy grens, sardines, and shrimp. This helps the children to lead a normal life.

Read more infomation: Most Nutrition Important For Children, Baby Growth

What is lactose overload?

This is when baby is consuming unnecessary large amounts of breast milk, usually caused through an oversupply of breast milk. The result is a fat, fussy, gassy baby that has explosive bowl movements and excretes excessive amounts of urine.

This occurs because baby is drinking too much of the foremilk, which is less sustaining than the fatty hind milk at the back of the breast. The result is gas, acidic poos and even nappy rash.

Drinking then calms baby down and moves the acid further down giving him comfort, but actually making the situation even worse.

The solution? Get baby to finish one breast before offering the other one, if he doesn’t get to the other breast you can always just pump for relief and make sure baby drinks from the opposite breast the next time. Also, mom should try timing baby so that she doesn’t feed him unnecessarily. It could be helpful to feed baby on each alternative breast every two hours.


Lactose intolerance has been recognized for many years as a common problem in many children and most adults throughout the world. Although rarely life-threatening, the symptoms of lactose intolerance can lead to significant discomfort, disrupted quality of life, and loss of school attendance, leisure and sports activities, and work time, all at a cost to individuals, families, and society. Treatment is relatively simple and aimed at reducing or eliminating the inciting substance, lactose, by eliminating it from the diet or by “predigesting” it with supplemental lactase-enzyme replacement. Calcium must be provided by alternate nondairy dietary sources or as a dietary supplement to individuals who avoid milk intake.