All you need to know about Lactose in Babies


Whether your baby takes breast milk or baby formula, there is a high probability that you've heard about lactose. But what is lactose? And why is lactose such an important ingredient in most infant formulas? Are there reasons certain babies should not have lactose? These are all questions any new parent has in mind.

Maybe you are wondering what lactose is. And this is a good question to ask.

Did you know that human milk contains more lactose than other common mammal milk? Probably not. But it's a fascinating fact. Breastmilk contains around 7% lactose compared to 4% lactose in goat milk and 5% in cow's milk. Humans produce lactose in breastmilk even if the parent doesn't eat dairy. As a result, almost all infants can digest lactose. Babies are biologically designed to digest lactose.

Indeed, some people should not include lactose in their diet. But lactose intolerance is rare in infants. Outside of some specific circumstances (like prematurity or an inherited lactase deficiency), lactose intolerance in infants is rare. Parents and caregivers often wonder if their baby might have lactose intolerance (especially if you do).

But, this kind of lactose intolerance that happens over time in older kids and adults doesn't usually start this young. The purpose of lactose in breastmilk is to provide carbohydrates needed for energy. Around 40% of the calories in breastmilk come from lactose. Sugar is necessary for babies. Whether it is lactose (milk sugar) or another type of carbohydrate.

Some conditions make a baby unable to digest lactose in formula or breast milk. Babies don't have the same lactose intolerance as older kids and adults. A genetic disease called congenital lactase deficiency makes them unable to digest lactose. Another rare genetic disease that leaves babies unable to have lactose is galactosemia. Lactose removal is any formula that's not 100% lactose. So some of the lactose has been cleared. And when lactose is removed, it has to be replaced with something to keep the calories. Glucose or sucrose are the best options. A formula that's labeled as sensitive is often lactose-reduced, but that is not always the case. The only certain way to know if a formula is lactose-reduced is to check the list of ingredients.

Of course, when you feel your baby is upset from crying or spitting up, you look for any possible way to help them feel better. Yet, most babies tend to do better with a formula switch that changes the protein in the formula compared to one that changes the carb source in the formula. Modifying the protein (aka switching to a partially-hydrolyzed formula, or 100% whey protein formula) tends to be much more successful in these instances. Instead of switching to a formula with intact proteins and little to no lactose. The bottom line here is that if you are dealing with gas, constipation, discomfort in the baby, that is most likely related to milk protein. And not lactose. European countries have better regulations on the use of non-lactose carbohydrates in formulas fabricated in Europe. Contrary to the US. In Europe, carbohydrates like sucrose and glucose are exclusively permitted in special formulas. Not in standard cow's milk-based formulas.

The signs of lactose intolerance can vary, especially in babies.

Some common signs you may notice are diarrhea, frequent crying, watery stools ( green/yellow). Other less common signs are noisy bowel sounds and vomiting. These signs might occur anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours after having milk. Because the signs can also be caused by other things, it can be very difficult to notice lactose intolerance in a baby.

If you suspect your baby may be lactose intolerant, it's important to see your GP as soon as possible.

It is essential to rule out anything else that might be provoking the symptoms. Your GP may take a medical history. He will then look at how well your baby has been growing. Make a note of any symptoms you've noticed and maybe ask you to try giving your little one lactose-free milk for babies. Avoid weaning foods that contain lactose for a trial period to see if this solves the problem. If it does, your GP may ask you to continue with this diet to stop the symptoms from coming back.

If your baby is diagnosed as lactose intolerant, you'll have to avoid lactose. Not solely on milk but even in foods. For very young babies, this will mean switching to lactose-free formula milk. And following a strict diet. They may require extra calcium, magnesium, and zinc to replace what they can't get from milk.

For babies older in age, you may need to swap from a milk-free formula to lactose-free milk (found in most supermarkets). Always check ingredients labels on other foods to ensure that they don't include lactose. Look for these words on the ingredient lists: whey, curds, milk by-products, dry milk solids, non-fat dry milk powder.


Frequently Asked Questions about Lactose in Infants

We understand that parents often have numerous queries when it comes to their baby's lactose consumption and potential lactose intolerance. To address these concerns, we've curated a list of frequently asked questions on this subject.


  1. πŸ’­ How common is lactose intolerance in infants?

Lactose intolerance is actually quite rare in infants. Most babies naturally produce the enzyme lactase, which helps them digest lactose. However, some babies may develop temporary lactose intolerance after a stomach infection, but this usually resolves on its own.


  1. πŸ’­ What is the difference between lactose intolerance and milk allergy?

Lactose intolerance and milk allergy are different conditions. Lactose intolerance occurs when a baby's body cannot fully digest lactose, leading to digestive symptoms. A milk allergy, on the other hand, is an immune system reaction to proteins in cow's milk, and it can cause symptoms like skin reactions, breathing difficulties, and digestive problems.


  1. πŸ’­ Can breastfeeding mothers eat dairy products?

Yes, breastfeeding mothers can generally consume dairy products without any problem. The lactose in a mother's diet does not affect the lactose levels in her breast milk. However, if a baby has a confirmed cow's milk allergy, the mother may need to avoid dairy products.


  1. πŸ’­ Can lactose intolerance be cured?

There's no cure for lactose intolerance, but it can be managed effectively with dietary adjustments. In cases of temporary lactose intolerance in babies, such as after a stomach infection, the condition usually resolves on its own as the baby recovers.


  1. πŸ’­ Is it necessary to completely eliminate lactose from my baby's diet?

Not necessarily. Many babies with lactose intolerance can handle small amounts of lactose. Also, complete avoidance may not be needed in cases of lactose overload or temporary lactose intolerance. Always consult with a healthcare provider to determine the best dietary plan for your baby.


  1. πŸ’­ Are there any long-term complications associated with lactose intolerance?

Lactose intolerance in itself does not cause long-term health issues. However, it's crucial to ensure that your baby gets adequate nutrition if they are on a lactose-free or reduced-lactose diet. This is particularly important for nutrients like calcium and vitamin D, which are often obtained from dairy products.



Author: Laura
πŸ‘‹ Hey,  I'm a proud mother of two wonderful children. I've been working at OBF24 for 6 years as a formula expert and am part of the customer support team. I love being able to help customers find the perfect formula for their little ones and provide support with any questions they may have. Drop me a message β€Ί