Lactose intolerance is normally passed down through the genes of the baby’s parents. It is very rare for a baby to be born lactose intolerant. To be lactose intolerant from birth, a baby would be unable to digest the lactose in breast milk, infant formula or cow’s milk and experience severe diarrhoea.
What is lactose intolerance?
Milk, infant formula, breast milk, and dairy products all contain a type of sugar called lactose. Those who suffer from lactose intolerance are unable to properly digest this type of sugar in their bodies. This is because the body can’t produce enough of a digestive enzyme called lactase. Lactase breaks down lactose into a digestible form. If the body can’t produce enough lactase to break down lactose, the lactose stays undigested in the intestine, resulting in uncomfortable gastrointestinal problems.
Lactose intolerance is relatively uncommon in babies as it normally shows up in the early teens, however, premature babies may sometimes be unable to produce enough lactase for a while. No one knows the exact cause of lactose intolerance, though genetics are thought to play a part.
Lactose intolerance isn’t harmful but it can cause discomfort in the stomach such as cramps, nausea, diarrhoea, and flatulence.
What are the symptoms of lactose intolerance in babies?
The symptoms of lactose intolerance can be difficult to identify, as they are similar to other conditions.
Common symptoms to look out for include:
- Severe diarrhoea
- Stomach ache
- Excessive wind
- Bloated tummy
- Persistent crying
- Nausea and vomiting
- Possible failure to gain weight
If your baby has lactose intolerance, the symptoms will occur between 30 minutes to 3 hours after drinking milk or eating dairy products. Some babies can consume a small amount of lactose without showing symptoms while other babies only need a tiny amount to begin showing signs of intolerance.
What is colic?
Colic is the term given for a baby experiencing excessive crying when they appear otherwise healthy. No exact cause has been determined for why colic occurs in babies; however, wind and digestion may play a part. Colic isn’t a dangerous condition and isn’t harmful to babies.
What are the symptoms of colic in babies?
Colic normally occurs in babies who are aged between a few weeks and four months of age. While it can be challenging caring for a baby with colic, the symptoms generally last for a few weeks and will subside.
The symptoms of colic include:
- Excessive crying with no real reason for being distressed
- Crying for several hours at a time
- Crying may be worse in the afternoon or evening
- A bloated tummy
- Excessive wind or more than usual
- Baby brings knees to their chest
- Arched back when crying
- Flushed face
- Clenched fists
If you suspect your baby has colic, consult your doctor for advice.
What are the differences between symptoms of colic and lactose intolerance in babies?
A lactose intolerance is a digestive condition in which the body can’t break down lactose; the sugar in milk and dairy products. On the other hand, colic is a condition that causes excessive crying in babies.
A key difference between the symptoms of colic and those of lactose intolerance is that the lactose intolerant baby suffers from diarrhoea. The osmotic pressure generated by lactose and lactic acid in the stomach produces an influx of water leading to a swollen abdomen and acidic diarrhoea.
Diarrhoea or vomiting are not associated with colic. While persistent crying can occur with lactose intolerance due to the discomfort caused in the stomach, the excessive crying linked with colic will last for around three hours at a time and will normally occur in the late afternoon or early evening. It will also only last for several weeks before running its course.
Colic will go away between 3 to 4 months of age while the symptoms of lactose intolerance will likely persist beyond this.