Does Breast Milk Contain Lactose?

The short answer is, Yes! Breast milk does contain around 7% lactose. Lactose is sugar (a carbohydrate) that is present in human milk as well as in all mammals’. Lactose has molecules called galactose and glucose in it and is found in a natural form in breast milk. Lactose is produced in the breast and isn’t associated with the mother’s diet.

Lactose is important for developing babies, as it provides about 40% of the baby’s energy needs, helps with calcium and iron absorption.

Lactose in breast milk also helps to keep pathogenic bacteria that are present in the gut away and is also very helpful for the growth of a developing newborn baby’s brain and central nervous system.

Now, lactose doesn’t necessarily suit all newborn babies.

A baby can suffer either from lactose overload, which is also called ‘functional lactase insufficiency,’ or they can suffer from lactose intolerance- this happens when the baby’s body isn’t able to make enough lactase which helps digest lactose.

What is lactose overload?

A newborn baby is crying while lying down because he is not feeling well after feeding due to lactose overload.

Lactose overload happens when there’s an imbalance between foremilk and hindmilk.

Foremilk is the first milk that the baby gets upon breastfeeding, and hindmilk is the milk that the baby gets at the end of the feed.

Healthy babies can break down lactose in the usual amount of milk they receive.

Still, lactose overload happens when the baby is fed too much milk in a short amount of time or cluster feeding, or if the time between two feeds is long, or if the mother has an oversupply of milk.

In this case, the milk is pushed through the baby’s digestive system very quickly, which doesn’t let the lactose be broken down appropriately.

Signs of lactose overload in babies

  • The baby may seem fussier, and more cranky
  • Irritability
  • Excessive gas and farting
  • Fussing during feeding time
  • Bloating
  • The baby might even spit large amounts of milk because of overfeeding
  • Sleeplessness or restlessness

How is lactose intolerance different from lactose overload?

Mom is bottle feeding her newborn baby formula milk after finding that breastfeeding causes her baby discomfort due to lactose intolerance.

A baby is rarely born with lactose intolerance. In such cases, it’s called Galactosemia, which is an extremely rare condition and is even fatal if untreated.

A baby born with this disorder wouldn’t be able to gain weight and have clear signs of dehydration.

But almost all babies are born with the ability to produce the enzyme lactase, which helps digest lactose in the gut.

So, why is it we hear that some adults are lactose intolerant? That is because the production of the enzyme lactase decreases in some children as they grow. So, their tolerance towards lactose in milk also decreases.

While lactose overload happens when the baby is overfed, or the baby ingests way more than the normal amount of milk they usually consume.

On the other hand, babies born with lactose intolerance cannot even consume and digest the normal amount of milk which results in weight loss.

FAQs

How do you treat lactose intolerance in breastfed babies?

As lactose is naturally found in breast milk and formula, babies with lactose intolerance are given lactose-free formula milk, which is often suggested by the pediatrician.

How long does lactose overload last?

The symptoms of lactose overload usually last for up to 48 hours or till the lactose passes through the baby’s digestive system.

How do I know if my breastfed baby is lactose intolerant?

If your baby is born with lactose intolerance, you might see signs like pain and swelling in the baby’s tummy, diarrhea, weight loss, frothy and watery poop, irritability, and fussiness during feeding time and after.

Do colic babies fart a lot?

Colicky babies are usually very gassy either because they are lactose intolerant or have an immature stomach, or maybe because of a poor feeding technique.

Conclusion

So, check for the above symptoms to see whether your baby is suffering from lactose overload and not intolerant towards lactose.

Before coming to any conclusion, please consult your child’s doctor to give your child the required and appropriate treatments.

Don’t rely on the internet itself to help remedy any condition you might think your baby has. Instead, always take help and guidance from a doctor.

Located in India and a mother to a joyfully mischievous son, Kelin is the wife of the world’s most patient man and a busy homemaker. When she’s not busy cooking and running after her kid,  you can find her in a corner reading, or penning down words on her laptop. She believes the world will always try to instil ‘mom guilt’ in new mothers, but she goes by the maxim ‘a mother knows best'.

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