Lactose intolerance in babies is quite rare. Unless they are born prematurely, or it is inherited from both parents, it’s more common for children to develop it when they’re older, in their teens.

What is lactose intolerance?

Lactose intolerance is caused by lack of the enzyme lactase. Lactase breaks down lactose, which is the main sugar found in milk. When the lactose can’t be digested it can cause some uncomfortable symptoms.

The symptoms of lactose intolerance look very similar to other conditions and that can make it hard to recognize. Lactose intolerance is not the same as a milk allergy. A milk allergy is an immune response, whereas lactose intolerance is a digestive problem. Symptoms for lactose intolerance can appear anywhere between 1 minute to 3 hours after drinking milk.

Symptoms include:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Bloated tummy
  • Excessive gas
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Noisy bowel movements

None of these are fun for your little one so they may also be unsettled and cry.

How is lactose intolerance treated?

Speak to your baby’s doctor if you suspect lactose intolerance. They will be able to help you and ensure your baby still gets all the nutrients they need.

You may be given some lactase drops if you are breastfeeding. These will help breakdown the lactose in your breast milk. Lactase drops can be mixed with expressed breast milk in a sterilized bottle or given on a spoon just before you feed them. You won’t need to change your diet because lactose is made by your breasts and not related to the amount of lactose you consume yourself.

If your baby is drinking formula, there are lactose-free milk formulas you can switch to but talk to a healthcare professional for advice.

If your baby is older and eating solids they will need to avoid foods containing lactose. Make sure you read the labels on food carefully and watch out for words like whey, dry milk solids, curds, milk by-products and non-fat dry milk powder. You don’t want these.