When we discovered that my son was temporarily lactose intolerant, the anxious and detective mother in me got into a full-blown R&D mode. I Googled, spoke to experts and experienced people then and have gathered a lot of stuff on lactose intolerance.
So what is lactose intolerance?
Lactose intolerance happens when the body can’t break down the sugar called lactose.
Lactose is present in breast milk, dairy milk and other dairy products. It is important for a baby’s health and development.
Usually, the enzyme lactase changes lactose into sugars that are more easily absorbed. But sometimes, children don’t produce enough lactase to break down all the lactose, so the unabsorbed lactose passes through the gut without being digested. Bacteria eat the undigested lactose, which leads to a buildup of gas and causes symptoms like wind and diarrhoea.
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Causes of lactose intolerance
There are two types of lactose intolerance: primary and secondary. They have different causes.
Primary lactose intolerance
This happens when babies are born with no lactase enzymes at all. This is genetic and extremely rare. Babies with this kind of lactose intolerance have severe diarrhoea from the very first day of life. To thrive, they need a special diet from the time they are born.
Secondary lactose intolerance
This can happen if a child’s digestive system has been upset by tummy bug illnesses like gastroenteritis. This kind of lactose intolerance is temporary and usually improves after a few weeks.
Secondary lactose intolerance might also happen if your child’s body doesn’t produce enough lactase. This usually develops after the age of three and can be lifelong.
Most lactose-intolerant children can continue to include some milk products in their diets, especially if they eat them with other foods and in small amounts throughout the day.
Common symptoms of lactose intolerance
Lactose Intolerance causes a range of symptoms including:
Pain and swelling in the tummy
Failure to settle
Coming on and off the breast during breastfeeding
Failure to gain weight
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Red, raw nappy rash caused by acidic poo is another possible symptom or side effect of lactose intolerance.
Even if your child has these symptoms, it doesn’t always mean s/he’s lactose intolerant. It is also highly likely the symptoms will disappear.
Diagnosing lactose intolerance
Because some of the symptoms of lactose intolerance and food allergy are similar, diagnosing lactose intolerance can sometimes be tricky.
Treating Lactose Intolerance
Your doctor may conduct few tests to determine if your baby is lactose intolerant. Weaning isn’t usually recommended because breastmilk has so many nutritional benefits. Your child can usually tolerate a small amount of lactose, and gradually increasing it can help her body produce more lactase.
If your baby is formula fed, consult your GP or a registered dietician before using a low-lactose or lactose-free infant formula. If your child is under six months, avoid using soy-based infant formula.
Lactose intolerance and diet
If your child is older and diagnosed with lactose intolerance,s/he can eat the following foods:
Certain pure cheeses with very small lactose content, yoghurt, calcium-fortified soy products, lactose-free milk, butter and cream.
Do not allow him to eat: Milk desserts, cream cheese, processed cheese and cheese spreads, muesli bars, instant mashed potato and vegetables with added milk or white sauces.
These diet tips can also help your child avoid symptoms:
Try full-fat milk – the fat gives your child’s body longer time to digest the lactose.
When cooking, try roasts, grilled vegetables and Asian-style stir-fries.
For desserts, try fruit sorbets, meringues, fruit baskets and milk-free muffins.
So mums, watch out for signs and take your doctor’s advice. And most importantly, trust the human body.
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