Lactose intolerance in babies: signs and symptoms
While relatively uncommon, some babies can be lactose intolerant, and the condition can cause discomfort if left untreated.
What is lactose intolerance?
Lactose is a sugar found naturally in breast milk, cow’s milk and most dairy products (yoghurt, cream, margarine, cheese, milk chocolate, rice pudding and more).
Usually, lactose is broken down in the gut by an enzyme called lactase. Yet some people (including babies) don’t have enough of this enzyme. Without lactase to break it down, the lactose stays in the gut and bacteria ‘eat’ it instead. This produces large amounts of gas, which in turn produces the symptoms of lactose intolerance.
What causes lactose intolerance?
In babies, lactose intolerance is generally caused by either:
- A congenital condition, where babies are born without (or with very low amounts of) lactase
- Premature birth, where the small intestine is not developed enough to produce lactase yet
- A temporary intolerance caused by a stomach bug or infection, undiagnosed coeliac disease or antibiotics
Lactose intolerance can also develop in older children whose diets are low in lactose. This is often the case in cultural groups where dairy isn’t part of the everyday diet.
How do I know if my baby is lactose intolerant?
It can be tricky to diagnose lactose intolerance, as the symptoms are similar to other conditions. Things to look out for include:
- Stomach pain
- Bloated stomach
- Excessive wind
These symptoms usually appear within three hours of the feed.
If your baby is showing any of these symptoms or you think he is having trouble digesting a feed, you should consult your doctor or health professional. They will be able to advise on the best way to address the condition.
The good news is that, once diagnosed, lactose intolerance is quite manageable and your little one will be able to continue feeding. It shouldn’t affect his development.
Will my baby grow out of lactose intolerance?
Depending on the cause, your baby may fully recover or be able to tolerate more lactose in the future. For some people, the condition lasts for life. Your doctor will talk to you about when and how you should reintroduce lactose to see if the intolerance has disappeared.
Check your baby's symptoms with our Baby Symptom Checker tool.