If your baby has constant diarrhoea or persistent bouts of vomiting, plus a failure to thrive or gain weight, then it would be a good idea to look into the possibility of lactose intolerance with a medical professional. However before you do, here are some things that you should know.
What Is Lactose Intolerance?
If you have been told that you are lactose intolerant it means that your body has difficulty producing sufficient quantities of lactase, the enzyme that makes digestion of lactose possible. Lactose is a sugar that is found in cow’s milk and most other dairy items. Because the body is unable to digest the lactose it remains undigested in the intestine and ends up causing a range of gastrointestinal symptoms. Occasionally premature babies are unable to produce lactase, as this is a bodily function that develops during the third trimester of pregnancy however most of the time lactose intolerance is not generally diagnosed until a child reaches school age. Current statistics show that currently there are around 40 million people in the US that have been diagnosed as being lactose intolerant.
Facts About Lactose Intolerance
At the moment there is no definitive understanding of why some people develop lactose intolerance and others don’t, however it is known that genetics have some influence over the predisposition for the intolerance. A staggering 90% of Asian Americans and a huge 75% of Hispanic American, African American, Jewish and Native Americans are known to be lactose intolerant, when you compare that to only 15% of the population of the whole of Northern Europe the difference is incredible.
It is rare for a baby to be born with the intolerance, in theory both of its parents would have to pass on the intolerance gene. But if a child was born with lactose intolerance they would suffer from severe diarrhoea as they would be unable to digest the lactose in their milk feeds from their mothers breast milk, and would need to be put onto a special baby feed formula that was lactose free. Occasionally when a baby or infant is suffering from a fever they can display the symptoms of lactose intolerance as his body will be having trouble producing enough lactase due to the fever, but the symptoms should disappear after a week or so.
Symptoms of Lactose Intolerance
Symptoms can vary between individuals but you should look out for the following: Diarrhoea, stomach cramps, abdominal bloating and excessive gas all of which will appear within 30 minutes to 2 hours after taking a milk feed or eating any dairy produce like yoghurt. The symptoms will appear severe in some and mild in others, so there is no definitive guide to follow.
Is a Milk Allergy the Same as Lactose Intolerance?
In simple terms, no, it is not the same. An allergy is caused by the body’s immune system reacting to a substance; lactose intolerance is a condition of the digestive system. They are easily confused as the symptoms of each can present in similar ways. However, if your child were to develop an itchy and dry rash, and have their lips or face swell up after consuming anything dairy, or indeed come up in hives, have a very runny nose and watery eyes after eating or drinking dairy items, then it could be that the allergy is to a protein contained within cow’s milk that is causing the problem. If you are certain that your child is exhibiting symptoms of intolerance speak to your doctor, they will then go through all of the symptoms that you have noted and will guide you through any necessary changes to your child’s diet.
Can it Be Treated?
There is no treatment that can overcome an intolerance, but there are things that you can do to help your child, to limit any symptoms that they may suffer.
• Avoid all dairy products and other foods that contain lactose.
• Make sure you read the labels on all of the food products that they eat; this is the only way to be sure whether a product contains lactose.
• Watch for reactions from your child to what they eat, some items may affect them more than others.
• Live culture yoghurts are easier to digest than other dairy items as the live bacteria assist in the production of lactase in the body.
• Ensure that all of the nutritional needs of your child are met; occasionally when a diet is changed certain nutrients can be overlooked. If you are unsure of what your child needs nutritionally speak to a dietician.
• Depending upon the age of your child, lactose free dairy items can be included in their diet, as these foods still contain all of the vitamins and nutrients of their full dairy counterparts, just not the symptom producing lactose.
• If you feel that your child is still losing out of nutrients speak to your health care professional about nutritional supplements.
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