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Lactose intolerance

On rare occasions, a baby’s may not be thriving on the milk she is drinking, but is this because of a reaction to the milk itself? How to spot lactose intolerance and what to do about it.

Although many babies may posset a certain amount of milk after almost every feed (due to drinking too much in one go, or because they have not been gently winded after a feed), and some babies are even quite ‘colicky’, a bad reaction to the milk itself is a possible cause of an infant not thriving on feeds.

What is lactose intolerance?

This is when a person does not naturally produce enough of a certain enzyme in the gut needed to break down the lactose present in human or animal milk.

In our bodies, the enzyme (lactase) breaks down lactose into two absorbable sugars, glucose and galactose, that provide the energy we derive from what we eat. If there isn’t enough lactase, the lactose remains in the gut and can cause fermentation. This can lead to uncomfortable windiness and cramping, and eventually to a swollen stomach and diarrhoea. If left undetected for too long, it can cause dehydration.

Premature babies may be more likely to suffer from this as their digestive systems are even less mature than other newborns.

Because lactose is in human milk as well as regular animal milk (and in many regular formula milks), it is possible for breastfed babies to show signs of this intolerance, too.

Signs of lactose intolerance

A baby who may be suffering from this condition might show the following symptoms:

  • crying and discomfort
  • a lot of wind
  • a bloated tummy
  • colic (some over the counter colic remedies contain lactase)
  • filled nappies that do not look their usual pale mustard colour
  • possibly eczema

Treating lactose intolerance

The first thing to do is speak to your GP before stopping feeds. Suggest that this is your concern, but also be open to the symptoms actually proving to be signs of something else.

If your baby is not thriving – not drinking enough milk, regularly unwell, not putting on a healthy amount of weight at an even pace – your doctor can prescribe either special drops to include in a feed, or special formula milks which are lactose-free.

Only about 5% of adults tend to suffer the intolerance, and many can manage this by learning what aspects of a daily diet should be avoided. However, lactose is important in a regular diet because it helps the body absorb other key minerals, so those children and adults who are diagnosed with this intolerance should seek medical advice on what supplements they need to compensate for cutting certain things out of their diet.

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