Does your child throw tantrums and act fussy at the very thought of milk? Does he complain milk is giving him stomach aches? Well, it’s quite possible he isn’t making an excuse. There is every chance that your child is lactose intolerant.
Lactose intolerance is a condition that is characterised by the body’s inability to digest lactose, a kind of sugar found in milk (breast milk, formula milk, animal milk) and milk products.
Before going further, here are some things you need to know.
Causes and Types of Lactose Intolerance
There are four types of lactose intolerance that can occur due to genetics or some underlying health conditions.
Primary lactose intolerance: This occurs when the brush border membrane present in small intestines do not produce enough lactase, an enzyme needed to effectively break down lactose. It is mostly hereditary, and the symptoms usually develop during the teen or adult years.
Congenital lactose intolerance: In rare cases, new-borns are lactose intolerant. A child born with lactose intolerance cannot eat or drink anything with lactose right from birth.
Developmental lactose deficiency: Some premature babies have temporary lactose intolerance. This is because their intestine is not yet developed to produce lactase.
After the baby matures and begins to make lactase, the condition typically goes away. But, some babies can develop persistent lactose intolerance which is then a difficult condition to manage since the best source of nutrition for babies is mother’s milk.
Secondary or Acquired lactose intolerance: Sometimes, milk proteins seep into the bloodstream due to gut permeability. In response, the immune system, treating them as foreign particles, elicits an immune reaction. This condition is commonly seen in individuals suffering from gastroenteritis, irritable bowel syndrome, food intolerance or allergy, celiac disease (gluten intolerance) and bowel surgery-related side effects.
Lactose Intolerance vs Milk Allergy
Let’s understand if your child is allergic to milk or is suffering from lactose intolerance.
Many people confuse lactose intolerance with milk allergy. The two are very different. Milk allergy is common among young children. Many of them overcome the allergy as they grow. Like any allergy, the immune system reacts to milk the way it reacts to an infection. Lactose intolerance, on the other hand, is a type of sensitivity. It happens when intestinal brush border is damaged due to an infection or inflammation thus reducing the production of lactase. The condition is common in older children.
We will look at the key issue of Congenital lactose intolerance. Here is how you can identify and manage the condition.
If your child is lactose intolerant by birth, milk can cause extreme discomfort upon ingestion. The symptoms can range from mild to severe, depending on the amounts of lactase the child’s body makes. Symptoms can begin within 30 mins to 2 hours upon ingestion.
What to look out for:
- Pain or abdominal cramps
- Rumbling sounds in belly
- Diarrhoea (explosive and watery)
- Frothy acidic stools
How to confirm if your child is lactose intolerant: The best way to confirm is to avoid feeding milk and dairy products to your child and see if the symptoms go away.
If they do, then you can try adding small amounts of milk to see if the symptoms come back. This is called ‘Elimination’ method.
You can consult your paediatrician if you suspect your child is suffering from this condition. Many doctors do a hydrogen breath test or a blood sugar test to confirm the diagnosis.
Managing the condition
There is no cure that addresses the root cause i.e. lack of lactase enzyme. One can only treat the symptoms by limiting or avoiding milk products. Even though there are many lactose-free milk varieties available, they may be over-processed.
If your newborn is diagnosed with lactose intolerance, you may worry about her missing on the essential nutrients that are found in the breast milk. With carbohydrates, proteins, fats, iron, calcium, magnesium, fat as well as water-soluble vitamins and immunoglobins, breast milk is a wholesome food for the infants. Furthermore, it boosts the immunity of your child. Formula milk is an alternative, but breast milk is unquestionably the best food for the young babies.
Did You Know
- 2 tablespoons of sesame seeds have the same amount of calcium found in half a glass of milk. The calcium in the former can be absorbed better by your child when compared to the calcium found in milk.
- Coconut milk is the closest to mother’s milk in composition because of the presence of lauric acid. It tastes creamy, just like cow’s milk!
- In Southern states, ragi is considered toddler’s food. A tasty porridge is cooked with ragi flour, water (or nut milk) and jaggery.
- In many children who are lactose intolerant, their bodies accept yoghurt, because the process of fermentation breaks down lactose.
So, what’s the solution?
The good news is that your child doesn’t have to lose the benefits of breast milk. Work with your doctor and give lactase drops which will help your child digest the lactose in the breast milk. The lactase drops need to be mixed with expressed breast milk and then given to your child right before you feed him.
Once the time is right to wean off, you can slowly introduce your child to other non-dairy sources specifically to fulfil her calcium and protein requirements. These alternatives are great sources of nutrients for any child whether or not she suffers from lactose intolerance.
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