Lactose is the protein contained in cows’ milk. It is not uncommon for some babies to be allergic or intolerant to cows’ milk. Since cows’ milk is the basis of most baby milk formulas, it’s not surprising that such babies fail to thrive, seem miserable and ‘gripey’ and suffer reflux and pain as well as diarrhoea and sometimes a rash.
These symptoms are often put down to ‘colic’, which is a word used to describe a period that many babies go through in their early weeks then they will scream and cry and seem to be in great pain, usually on an evening. Colic is not, by any means, always down to a lactose allergy, but it is sometimes. And often it is only diagnosed after a period of ‘colic’ lasts for more than a month or so.
If your baby is losing weight and is ‘colicky’ you might want to explore with your GP whether or not he or she has a lactose intolerance or allergy. If he/she does, then the solution is easy: change formulas to one that is not based on cows’ milk, or (if you’re breastfeeding) stop consuming any lactose yourself so that it won’t get passed on to your baby. Many mums are advised to stop breastfeeding and put their babies onto non-lactose formula because some GPs and Health Visitors don’t seem to understand that there’s a difference between human milk (which does not contain lactose) and cows’ milk (which does).
Let us be clear. If you are breastfeeding and it is found that your baby is allergic to lactose, all you need to do is stop consuming lactose and your baby won’t consume any either.
Most babies grow out of their allergy over time as their system matures. It is an allergic reaction like any other – the body’s immune system is fighting something (in this case, lactose) that it thinks shouldn’t be in there. Lactose intolerance is an inability to digest lactose.
If your baby has a milk allergy, their symptoms might appear gradually over time (with diarrhoea, sickness, refusing feeds, colic, rashes) and may not be immediately associated with a feed.
Other babies might have symptoms that appear rapidly after consuming lactose (which makes it easier to diagnose), such symptoms being things like sickness, wheeziness, hives, swelling of the face or body, and blood in their diarrhoea.
If you think your baby has a milk allergy or lactose intolerance, speak to your GP who will rule out other causes before diagnosing either of these conditions. He will then refer you to a dietician who
can advise on the best way of ensuring that your baby receives proper nutrition without lactose in their diet. If you’re breastfeeding, the dietician can advise on how to ensure that you still receive adequate calcium in your diet without cows’ milk.