Lactose intolerance is the most common carbohydrate intolerance in babies. It is a disease that shows symptoms arising due to insufficient or no production of the lactase enzyme in the body.
Milk indigestion causes lactose intolerance.
Lactase is required for the hydrolysis (digestion) of the milk sugar i.e. lactose. Babies with lactose intolerance cannot tolerate milk and milk products. So if they consume those products the lactose in the milk remains undigested. This means that your baby’s small intestine is neither be able to digest, nor absorb lactose. This undigested lactose reaches the colon, where it is used by the bacteria. This causes gastric problems like abdominal cramping, flatulence and diarrhoea.
Premature babies are prone to lactose intolerance. Your baby’s lactase levels are normally built up during the end of the last trimester of pregnancy. Therefore, premature babies may be unable to produce enough lactase for a while. This can make them more susceptible to lactose intolerance.
Lactose-free feed for term babies. Very few term babies are lactose intolerant. However, those who suffer from it may not be able to tolerate the mother’s milk. Special lactose-free feeds are needed for these babies from the very first day of birth.
Causes of lactose intolerance.
The chances of acquiring lactose intolerance from the mother, or the father or both are very rare. However, in case of congenital cases, the babies need to be fed on special lactose-free feeds. Some of the common causes of lactose intolerance include diarrhoea and medication.
Diarrhoea stops lactase production. In case of severe diarrhoea, your baby’s body may be temporarily unable to produce lactase. In situations like this your baby may show symptoms of lactose intolerance for a week or two due to the disruption of gastro-intestinal mucosa that produces lactase.
Medication reduces lactase production. Some medications and antibiotics can also reduce the production of lactase, thus causing temporary lactose intolerance in the body.
Symptoms of lactose intolerance.
The symptoms of lactose intolerance in a baby generally appear between half-an-hour to two hours after she has consumed milk or milk products.
General symptoms. These can include diarrhea, frothy acidic stools, stomach ache, bloating and gas.
Restlessness. If your baby is suffering from lactose intolerance she may be very restless and uncomfortable.
Severe states are generally not seen in such cases. However, these symptoms can make the baby highly uncomfortable.
Lactose tolerance test.
The lactose tolerance test is conducted to basically determine the level of lactose tolerance in your baby. In this test lactose is administered to the baby and then blood samples are taken at regular intervals to determine the sugar levels. A lactose tolerant person digests and absorbs the lactose administered and gradually the blood sugar levels increase due to absorbed glucose and galactose. However, if the level of tolerance decreases, the changes in blood sugar level also decrease. This way the tolerance level can be determined.
Preventing lactose intolerance.
Lactose intolerance is more like food allergy, i.e. not exactly a disease and there is no treatment for it in the strict sense. However, it can certainly be prevented through measures like special lactose free food as well as some smart modifications in your baby’s diet.
Special lactose feeds. You may not be able to breastfeed your baby if she is lactose intolerant. In cases like this the doctor puts your baby on some low lactose special feeds.
Dietary supplementation for milk. If your baby is above 6 months old and has started taking solid food, you can give her food items that do not have milk or dairy products as an ingredient. However, you can use soy milk, tofu, almond milk etc.
Avoid lactose containing food items. Always read the labels before buying food for your baby. Avoid it if the item contains lactose or milk. For instance, don’t buy food items like cakes, breads, biscuits, readymade food etc. as they may contain ingredients like milk solids, milk by-products, dairy creamers, curd, and whey.
Feed your baby with low lactate ingredients. Sometimes your baby may not be totally lactose intolerant, i.e. she can tolerate low levels of lactose. In cases like this, you can provide her with low lactose milk or low lactose cheeses. You can also use fresh curd.
Understand your baby’s tolerance level. You need to go through a bit of a trial and error method to find the lactose tolerance levels of your baby since there are no hard and fast rules for this. You can use small amount of milk for your baby in combination with other non-dairy food items if she can tolerate it to a certain extent.
Fill the nutrient gap. To ensure that your lactose intolerant baby does not miss out on those nutrients, you need to balance this gap with other food items. These can include soya, tofu, soy milk, eggs, meats, fish, poultry, leafy greens, fortified juices, broccoli etc. You can also make use of commercially available low lactose milks and fortified or complementary meals. Further, you can use food items that are rich in calcium.
In case of lactose intolerance you need to fill the absence of the milk nutrients with other food items. It is advisable to consult a dietician or a paediatrician to help you out in planning the diet for your baby. This ensures that your baby’s nutrient requirements are fulfilled properly.